House defeats GOP bid to censure Rangel

July 31, 2008 8:03:02 PM PDT
House Democrats voted down Thursday an effort by Republicans to chastise powerful lawmaker Charles Rangel over a questionable housing arrangement, which the congressman insists violated no laws. Hours later, the House ethics committee announced it had opened an investigation, as Rangel recently requested.

Rangel, the chairman of the powerful tax-writing House Ways & Means Committee, has been under intense scrutiny in the past month for his use of four rent-stabilized apartments in a Harlem building.

The New York Democrat "has dishonored himself and brought discredit to the House and merits the censure of the House for same," said the censure recommendation measure offered by Minority Leader John Boehner.

"Instead of keeping their promise to 'drain the swamp' of corruption in Washington, House Democrats are sinking in it," said Boehner, who accused Rangel of engaging in "sweetheart deals" that violate House rules.

Censure is a form of public reprimand by a lawmaker's colleagues.

Rangel tried to pre-empt the Republican effort by taking to the House floor and offering to support the measure if they removed the accusation he had discredited Congress and deserved censure.

"I'm asking the minority to allow me to join in with them in this resolution to say this matter should be cleared up, but there's no need, even for mean-spirited people in the minority to say that I'm a discredit to the United States Congress," Rangel said.

The censure measure was set aside, by a vote of 254-138, with two dozen Republicans voting with the Democrats.

New York City's rent stabilization law allows for people to pay less - in some cases, thousands of dollars a month less - than the market rate to rent their primary residence.

The use of the apartments came into question after the New York Times reported Rangel had four apartments in the same building, one of which was used as a campaign office despite rules requiring such discounted apartments to be a tenant's primary residence.

Though he removed the campaign office once questions were raised, Rangel has insisted he's done nothing wrong. He has asked the ethics committee to examine both the apartments arrangement and a separate issue of writing letters to philanthropists.

Rangel, who has been in Congress for nearly four decades, is also being examined for using congressional stationery to contact potential donors to a college center named after him.