- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A combative Rep. Charles B. Rangel told the House on Tuesday he’s not resigning despite 13 charges of wrongdoing and demanded the ethics committee not leave him “swinging in the wind.”

Mr. Rangel, 80, spoke without notes in an extraordinary, often emotional 37-minute speech that defied his attorneys’ advice to keep quiet about his case.

The New York Democrat and 40-year House veteran had a sharp message in dismissing fellow Democrats who, worried about election losses, want him to quit: “If I can’t get my dignity back here, then fire your best shot in getting rid of me through expulsion.”

Expulsion is the harshest penalty that can result from an ethics case. It would be highly unlikely in Mr. Rangel’s case, because the former chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee is not accused of corruption. The bipartisan four-member ethics panel that investigated Mr. Rangel suggested a reprimand, a statement of wrongdoing voted by the House, but that is only a recommendation to the ethics committee.

Several hours after Mr. Rangel spoke from the front of a half-full House chamber, Speaker Nancy Pelosi made clear in a written statement that she wasn’t pleased with the congressman’s choice of venue.

“As I have repeatedly stated, the independent, bipartisan ethics committee is the proper arena for ethics matters to be discussed,” she said.

Mrs. Pelosi faces the possibility of losing her speaker’s gavel in November if Republicans win enough seats. The Rangel ethics case isn’t helping, nor are unrelated charges that fellow Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California improperly tried to help a bank where her husband had a financial interest. Mrs. Waters is a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee.

Mr. Rangel, who said he has lost much sleep during the two-year investigation, was interrupted by applause twice - including when he said: “I am not going away. I am here.” A few Republicans clapped, but most support came from Democrats.

The Democrat from Harlem acknowledged that he made mistakes, especially in belatedly reporting hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets and income, but he insisted he was not corrupt. And he insisted the committee overstated the seriousness of his solicitations of businesses and foundations for the Charles Rangel Center at City College of New York.

Those solicited had major legislative issues before Mr. Rangel’s committees, and the charges said “reasonable persons” could construe the donations as influencing the New York Democrat’s actions. Mr. Rangel said he was only guilty of “grabbing the wrong stationery” - a reference to solicitations he sent on his official letterhead.

Several Republican lawmakers embraced Mr. Rangel’s call for swifter handling of ethics cases.

“Two years is longer than a normal criminal case usually takes,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican. He said charges against Mr. Rangel should have been brought much earlier.

Mr. Rangel noted the committee is scheduled to convene Sept. 13, the day before his primary election, but that the main part of his ethics trial would not come until later in the fall. Several Democratic challengers have emerged to challenge the once-unassailable lawmaker in the primary.

“Don’t leave me swinging in the wind until November,” Mr. Rangel demanded.

President Obama, in an interview on CBS July 30, said that what Mr. Rangel “wants is to be able to end his career with dignity.”

“And my hope is that it happens,” he added.

White House spokesman Bill Burton would not elaborate on what Mr. Obama meant, including whether the president was sending Mr. Rangel a not-so-veiled suggestion that he leave Congress.

“I think the president’s words speak for themselves,” Mr. Burton told reporters Tuesday.

Mr. Rangel said his legal bills have reached nearly $2 million, and he can’t afford to keep paying, especially when “nobody is going to read the defense.”

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