Washington— Charles Rangel has his swagger back, but not his power.
The 40-year congressional veteran on Thursday became the 23rd House member in the nation’s history to be censured for misconduct. As the final chapter of a more than two-year ethics investigation played out, Rangel moved through several zones of emotion: contrition, anger, relief, defiance.
The 80-year-old Democrat remains a political leader in New York’s Harlem. But in the House, his influence has waned. He stepped down from the chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee last March after he was criticized in a separate ethics investigation.
In the next Congress, Republicans will control the committee and there’s virtually no chance that Rangel will be the top Democrat. Other senior lawmakers already had moved ahead of him in the committee’s Democratic hierarchy.
Beyond the stain on his career, the censure will have little, practical effect. Rangel’s seat appears safe as long as he wants it. He received nearly 80 percent of the vote last month when he won his 21st term, and easily won his primary. He remains extremely popular with his House colleagues, greeting them by the dozens as he moves through the Capitol.
The House voted 333-79 to censure Rangel for failing to pay all his taxes, filing misleading financial statements, improperly seeking money from corporate interests for a college center bearing his name and setting up a campaign office in a subsidized, New York apartment designated for residential use.
When Rangel spoke to the House before the censure vote, he contritely said, “I brought it on to myself.” He appealed for fairness, but let a half-dozen supporters argue unsuccessfully for a lesser reprimand.
After the vote, speaking to the House, Rangel showed a flash of anger, saying that “at no time has it ever entered my mind to enrich myself or to do violence to the honesty that’s expected of all of us in this House.”
Rangel looked like a relieved man as he tried to leave the chamber. He only made it a third of the way up the aisle when well-wishers stopped and hugged him. He said something that made them laugh, and he smiled during the 10 minutes it took to exit.
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By the time of his post-censure news conference, Rangel was defiant.
“History would show that a different standard has been used in this case where I did not curse out the Speaker, I did not try to have sex with minors,” he said, referring to past censure cases.
He said he originally asked for an ethics investigation to counter “reporters who lie knowingly.”
“I am at rest with myself, and I am convinced that when history of this has been written that people will recognize that the vote for censure was a very, very, very political vote,” Rangel said.
The chairman of the ethics committee, Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, told the House the censure her committee recommended was consistent with a Democratic pledge to run “the most honest, most open, most ethical Congress in history.”