Embattled New York Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel delivered a bold and at times emotional impromptu speech from the House floor this afternoon, imploring his fellow lawmakers to expedite a hearing on alleged ethics violations and give him a chance to clear his name.
"I'm 80 years old, hey, I don't want to die before the hearing," said Rangel, expressing frustration at the course of his two-year ethics inquiry. "People I represent are entitled to know who their congressman is.
Rangel, who was formerly chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, stands accused of 13 counts of violating House rules. An adjudicatory committee of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats could hear Rangel's case beginning in September.
"All my life has been from the beginning public service. That's all I have ever done," he said. "If it is the judgment of people here for whatever reason that I resign, then have the ethics committee expedite this. Don't leave me swinging in the wind until November."
The remarks, which lasted for 37 minutes, were the first time Rangel had directly and so explicitly addressed the charges against him or the pending trial before his colleagues.
After the remarks House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made clear she would have preferred that Rangel's case play out off the House floor. "As I have repeatedly stated, the independent, bipartisan Ethics Committee is the proper arena for ethics matters to be discussed," she said in a statement. "The process is moving forward in a way that will ensure that the highest ethical standards are upheld in the House of Representatives."
But Rangel today took direct aim at at that process and the suggestion by some House lawmakers that he retire or resign from office.
"Even some people said that the president had suggested that his life might be made easier if there was no Charlie Rangel so-called scandal," he said, referring to President Obama's comments to CBS last week that Rangel seek to end his career with dignity.
"But I interpreted it another way. I think when the president said that he wanted me to end my career in dignity, he didn't put a time limit on it, and I would think that his concern would be that if any member of the House of Representatives has been accused of serious crimes or allegations ... the member has an opportunity to tell his constituents, his family and his friends what he didn't believe."
If the charges are upheld, Rangel could face a humiliating report on his actions, a public reprimand or censure by the House, or expulsion, which is considered unlikely.
Rangel also specifically addressed some of the accusations against him, including his alleged use of franking privileges and official stationery for fundraising efforts.
"There has to be a penalty for grabbing the wrong stationery and not doing the right thing," he said. "It may be wrong, it may be stupid, but it's not corrupt."
He also addressed his alleged failure to disclose more than half a million dollars of financial assets on tax forms.
"There absolutely is no excuse there. … I hired accountants to check out what the heck is going on to make certain that when I stand up and speak it's true. After I found out it was far more serious than the accusations, I turned it in to the ethics committee," he said. "There is no, not one scintilla bit of evidence that there was some way to hide from the public what I had."