N.Y. Rep. Charles Rangel Steps Down as Ways and Means Chairman

"[The ethics panel] did not take action against him," Pelosi said. "They just said he did not unlawfully break the rules."

As late as Tuesday night, Rangel insisted he would stay at Ways and Means, emerging from a meeting with Democratic leaders to say he would hold on to the chairman's gavel.

When Rangel was asked by reporters if he would remain chairman, he replied, "You bet your life."

But aides say Rangel was working out the details of a temporary resignation behind the scenes with a House parliamentarian and Democratic leaders.

Rangel -- whose autobiography, "And I Haven't Had a Bad Day Since," recounts his brush with death in the Korean War -- has been a member of Congress since 1971. He represents the 15th District of New York, which includes most of northern Manhattan.

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Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., is next in line in seniority and would be the most likely person to take over as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee -- at least temporarily.

ABC News' Dean Norland and Mark Mooney contributed to this report.

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