Bowing to mounting political pressure from his Democratic colleagues, Rep. Charles B. Rangel temporarily stepped down as chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday amid findings that he violated House ethics rules.
The 79-year-old New York Democrat said he made the move to protect Democrats from election-year attacks after last week’s decision by the House ethics committee to admonish him for accepting corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean.
“To avoid my colleagues having to defend me in their elections, I have asked Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi for a leave of absence until the ethics committee completes its work,” Mr. Rangel said.
Mrs. Pelosi, who famously declared upon her ascension to speaker that she would “drain the swamp” and rid Congress of it “culture of corruption,” accepted Mr. Rangel’s decision and praised his leadership on “jobs, health care and the most significant economic issues of the day.”
Republicans were pushing for a vote to oust Mr. Rangel from his post and said he does not deserve to keep the premier slot on the tax-writing panel.
“The ethics committee has spoken,” said Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio. “As a longtime member of the House, he does not deserve to be a member of the Democrat leadership.”
The panel is still investigating the 20-term lawmaker’s late payment of income taxes on a rental villa he owns in the Dominican Republic, his use of House stationery to solicit corporate donations to an educational institution that bears his name, and belated disclosure of hundreds of thousands of dollars in previously unlisted wealth.
Rep. Fortney “Pete” Stark is expected to fill the position as the chief writer of the nation’s tax laws. The California Democrat has taken criticism for controversial public comments in the past, but at least one of his fellow chairmen said he’s confident in his ability to do the job.
“He’s a character, and people understand that,” said Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “I don’t think it serves his interest to be as outspoken as he has, but that’s up to him.”
In the coming months, the committee will play a central role in shaping tax policy.
Billions of dollars of tax cuts put in place by former President George W. Bush are due to expire at the end of this year. The tax committee’s chairman will have great influence over which of these tax cuts are permitted to expire and which are extended.
Due to expire are lower overall income-tax rates that have been in effect for nearly a decade, as well as the so-called marriage-penalty relief. The $1,000 child credit will drop to $500, and maximum tax rates on dividend income and capital gains will rise sharply if Congress does nothing.
Some of the remaining cases against Mr. Rangel could result in rebukes more serious than last week’s admonishment, and that could make it difficult for Mr. Rangel to reclaim his chairmanship.
Republicans had been calling for Mr. Rangel to step aside since last year, and those demands increased after the ethics panel released its report on Friday admonishing him. He blamed his staff for failing to flag the corporate role in the Caribbean trips.
Since the report, support for him among Democrats has been diminishing, with Rep. Artur Davis, Alabama Democrat, on Tuesday becoming the first member of the Congressional Black Caucus - which Mr. Rangel helped found - to call for him to step down from his chairmanship.