Censure, then Dinner and Back to Work
The nauseating fight over which word was a more appropriate punishment for Charles Rangel is everything that's wrong with Congress.
December 4, 2010 - 12:00 am
The formal resolution of censure of Charles Rangel read by Nancy Pelosi was, at best, anti-climatic. Through the course of the build-up to same, one would have thought Rangel faced having pins shoved under his fingernails, or his feet placed in a bucket of water with wires affixed to the more sensitive parts of his anatomy.
Bobby Scott (D-VA) argued that censure for Rangel was “rough and unfair, because it was based on the accumulation of offenses and not the character or intent of the offenses.” I admit to not fully comprehending the legitimacy of such an argument.
Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said Rangel’s offenses demanded a reprimand, not censure. He argued that the House has set in place an Ethics Committee to hold its members to a high standard, and that standard in this case demanded a reprimand. (A reprimand for not paying taxes on a property for 17 years — we should all be so privileged.) G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) based his call for a reprimand on Rangel himself having called for the trial. (Recall Rangel’s call for a trial was hubris, a dare to the Ethics Committee.)
Another House member speaking in support of a reprimand as opposed to censure referenced Rangel’s age, as if censure would result in a prison sentence without hope of parole. And the dramatic prose award went to Peter King (R-NY), who stated emphatically: “I implore you today to pause for a moment and step back. … If expulsion is the equivalent of the death penalty, then censure is like life in prison.”
There was talk of Rangel’s military service in the Korean War, and his being wounded. How many serving prison sentences today for crimes less serious than Rangel’s are Purple Heart vets?
It was a nauseating display of ruling class obfuscation, a prime example of why Congress now receives such a low public approval rating.
Rangel broke the law. He used his chairmanship of the powerful Ways and Means Committee to solicit money from lobbyists for the Charles B. Rangel Center at the City College of New York. He sidestepped the law by, having helped write the tax code, knowing what language to employ to avoid legal ramifications. He misused congressional perks. He failed to pay taxes on an income property for 17 years. He failed to report assets properly for a decade. He misused a rent-stabilized apartment as a campaign office. And he had an unreported $500,000-$600,000 in a checking account he claimed to have forgotten about, prior to blaming his wife for it.
To her credit, and to my surprise, Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) made it clear that Rangel had numerous choices to “handle the matter differently,” and he chose not to. He had been offered a deal that would have settled for a reprimand, but he chose instead to dare the Committee to try him: “It’s important to hold members to high standards,” Lofgren said. “It’s a sad day, but a necessary day … It’s an important vote for this institution and how we are seen by our employers, the American voters.”
Rangel argued that in none of the offenses did he think that he was enriching himself or doing “violence to the honesty that’s expected of all of us in [the] House.” He spoke of having thought back to his infantry days during the Korean War — the sub-zero temperatures, the fighting, and his leading 40 men to safety. He spoke of his wondering if he would survive to return home. He spoke of the casualties.
My cousin served in Korea. One of the only times I ever heard him mention his being there was to say he and his military brothers had to use urine to cool whatever kind of guns they where shooting.
When he returned home, he didn’t break the law.
Rangel said: “I tell you that story not for sympathy, but to let you know that at that time in every sense, I made up my mind that I could never complain to God for any event that occurred in my life.” And he shouldn’t — God allowed him to return home, and blessed him to be able to serve others. Instead, he used his position and blessings to loot, extort, and pillage.
After all the theater, pleas, and indignation, the vote for censure passed 333-79 with 23 not voting.
After that, what happened? What was the terrible fate that awaited him?
A somber, ashen-faced Nancy Pelosi read the following:
House Resolution 1737 would resolve that: Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York be censured. Representative Charles B. Rangel forthwith present himself in the well of the House for pronouncement of censure. Representative Charles B. Rangel be censured with the public reading of this resolution by the Speaker — and representative Rangel pay restitution to the appropriate taxing authorities or the U.S. Treasury for any unpaid estimated tax so outlined in Exhibit 066 on income received from his property in the Dominican Republic and provide proof of payment to the Committee.
That was it, and back to work.