- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 3, 2010

UPDATED:

Rep. Charles B. Rangel announced Wednesday that he has temporarily stepped down as chairman of the powerful HouseWays and Means Committee amid findings that he violated House ethics rules and a continuing ethics investigation.

The New York Democrat told reporters in a brief press conference that he asked Speaker Nancy Pelosi to grant the request to relieve political pressure on fellow Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections. He took no questions after making his statement.

“There has been so much attention in the media,” Mr. Rangel said. “To avoid my colleagues having to defend me in their elections, I have asked Speaker Pelosi for a leave of absence until the ethics committee completes its work.”

Republicans questioned whether House rules allow for a chairman to take a temporary leave and said Mr. Rangel does not deserve to hold the powerful post.

“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.”

Mr. Rangel, a 20-term Harlem Democrat whose committee writes the nation’s tax laws, said he will take the leave until the ethics committee completes its investigation.

Mrs. Pelosi, who famously declared upon her ascension to speaker that she would “drain the swamp” or corruption in the House, said she would grant the request.

“I commend Chairman Rangel for his decades of leadership on jobs, health care and the most significant economic issues of the day,” Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, said in a brief statement.

Last week, the ethics committee admonished Mr. Rangel for taking corporate-paid trips to the Caribbean, a violation of the House’s gift rules. The committee said it didn’t know whether Mr. Rangel knew who was paying for the trips but that his staff did and that he was responsible for what his staff knew.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Ohio Democrat, praised Mr. Rangel’s surprise announcement, which he said must have been a hard to make.

“I think he made the right decision and it had to be a difficult one for him to make,” Mr. Kucinich said during a call-in show on C-SPAN. He said the distraction of the long House Ethics Committee probe into Mr. Rangel was not just difficult for House Democrats to deal with, but for the “House as a whole as an institution.”

Amid mounting concerns over the course of the ethics probe, Mr Rangel met privately with Mrs. Pelosi on Tuesday evening, but seemed to emerge confident that he could retain his House seat and committee post.

While declining to take many questions in his press briefing Wednesday morning, Mr. Rangel said he had made the offer to Mrs. Pelosi to temporarily step down as committee chairman at the “very, very beginning” of the ethics investigation. But he declined to say why he had finally decided to make the move to step down.

He would not discuss who would replace him as head of the panel, but next in line is California Democratic Rep. Fortney Stark.

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