Charlie Rangel, the legendary congressman from Harlem and founder of the Congressional Black Caucus is facing an ethics investigation by a house ethics panel. Mr. Rangel, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee is being investigated among other charges for failure to pay taxes on a vacation home and illegally maintained multiple rent-controlled apartments in NY City. The Republicans are putting pressure on Speaker Nancy Pelosi to strip Mr. Rangel of his chairmanship. The Congressional Black Caucus is putting pressure on the Speaker to at the very least provide Mr. Rangel with a fair hearing. Mr. Rangel should resign his chairmanship and the CBC should stay out of this fight.
The bottom line is that the Mr. Rangel, who as chairman of the powerful Ways & Means Committee is chiefly responsible for establishing the tax policies originating out of the House but stands accused of failing to pay taxes on all of his income. We know that he has underreported his income and has had to go back and file amended disclosures. The principle here is very simple: the least that we should expect of our lawmakers is that they obey the laws of the land. Mr. Rangel did not; therefore, at the very least, he should not counted among the Congressional leaders. Whether he should resign his seat is a slightly different question. But he should not chair a congressional committee if he cannot abide by the laws that he helped put in place that govern others.
The Speaker should also ignore the CBC on this one. The CBC has the dubious distinction of defending former Representative William Jefferson who was recently convicted of bribery among other crimes. The CBC defended Mr. Jefferson even when it became clear that his actions were indefensible. The principle of the CBC on these issues seem to extend only to defending their own without considerations for rule of law issues. This is not the principle to which the Speaker should defer.
I'm sympathetic to Mr. Rangel. He has been a champion of civil rights; he is one of the lions of the House; he has worked hard to create power for legislators of color. But he has also crossed the line, apparently many times. As sympathetic as one can be, we cannot defend his actions.