Rangel Giving Up the Gavel: Sources

Could step down as early as tonight

Sources say Harlem Democrat Charles Rangel will step down as chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee soon, NBC News has learned.

He may make the move as early as tonight as pressure mounts and sources told NBC that either Michigan Democratic Rep Sander Levin or California Democrat Pete Stark will temporarily take over the committee.

Some details still need to be ironed out, but the sources said Rangel has been pushed to step down before the House voted on a bill to forcefully strip him of the coveted chairmanship.

When questioned directly by NBC News Tuesday night, however, Rangel denied the move. Asked if he was chairmain tonight and would he still be chairman tomorrow Rangel said, "You bet your life on it."

But sources still said he would be out soon. A Democratic member close to the situation told NBC News "tomorrow [Rangel] will take a leave of abesence until ethics investigation is over."

Rangel has been under fire ever since an ethics committee released a report Thursday that found that he violated House rules by accepting two corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean.

Rangel countered Friday that the ethics report "exonerates" him because it says there is no evidence that he knew the trips were sponsored by corporations. The report said his staff knew who paid for the trips.  Following the report, even Democrats began asking Rangel to step down.

“The citizens of his home state sent him here, that's their decision," said Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Mississippi), who lead the charge in asking Rangel to relinquish his post.  "But members of the [Democratic Caucus] made him chairman of that committee, and he should step down until all this is resolved.”

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