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What did GOP's bid to oust Charles Rangel accomplish?

The attempt to remove Charles Rangel from his seat as chairman of an influential House committee keeps allegations of bribery in the public eye.

By Staff writer / October 7, 2009

In this Sept. 10, 2008 file photo, House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Charlie Rangel (D) of New York, pauses as he responds to questions from reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Lauren Victoria Burke / AP / File

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Washington

Wednesday’s Republican bid to oust Rep. Charles Rangel (D) of New York as chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee failed on a near party-line vote – and the outcome was never in doubt.

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But in a highly polarized House, the significance of the move was not captured by the vote count. It was aimed to score political points by keeping corruption allegations against the majority party squarely in public sight – especially in the run-up to 2010 midterm elections.

"When the boss of the IRS, and the chairman of the House committee that controls the IRS, fail to pay their taxes and walk off without penalty, we have made a mockery of our tax system and the rule of law itself," said Rep. John Carter (R) of Texas, who sponsored the resolution. "Either this House repairs this damage, or the American people will have to replace this House.”

At his own request, Chairman Rangel has been under investigation by the House ethics panel since Sept. 24, 2008, on allegations ranging from using a rent-controlled property in New York for a campaign office, trading favors for funds for the Charles B. Rangel Center at the City College of New York, and failing to report income on tax forms.

House Democratic leaders have stood by the chairman, who enjoys strong friendships on both sides of the aisle, and rebuffed calls for his resignation. House Republicans say it will cost them in midterm elections.

"Today's vote is just the latest example of Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi breaking her promise to have the 'most open and ethical' Congress in history," said House Republican leader John Boehner after the vote.

In response to this, Democratic leaders say that, unlike in the past, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct is issuing regular reports on how it has been proceeding.

“We ought to allow that work to continue and to be completed and receive their recommendations, and we will do that,” said House majority leader Steny Hoyer in a press briefing on Tuesday.

Rangel is one of nine Democrats under investigation by the House ethics committee or the Department of Justice. Five Republicans are also the target of ethics probes, according to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

“The most serious thing he’s facing is that he traded a tax break for Nabors Industries in return for donations to the Rangel Center,” says CREW executive director Melanie Sloan. The donation and the tax break, which Rangel had earlier opposed, allegedly came about the same time. “If that’s true, that’s a bribe,” she adds.

What rankles other watchdog groups, however, is the allegation that Rangle failed to report income on tax forms – particularly as he is the leader of the House's tax-writing committee. "Congressman Rangel is in charge of the tax laws and cannot seem to follow them or appreciate that what he’s doing is setting a bad example for others,” says Thomas Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste in Washington.

In an unusual move, House Republicans demanded that the resolution against Rangel be read on the floor of the House twice. Critics called it a case of tit for tat. Republicans are still smarting from the move by Democrats to vote a
resolution of disapproval of Rep. Joe Wilson (R) of South Carolina for calling President Obama a liar during a health care address to a joint session of Congress.