Democrats Join Republicans Calling for Rangel to Step Down

Democrats and Republicans are asking the tax committee chairman to step down.

February 26, 2010, 10:07 AM

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2010— -- Republicans and at least three Democrats are calling on New York Rep. Charles Rangel to step down as Democratic chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means committee that writes the nation's tax laws.

Rangel is facing renewed pressure to relinquish his post after the House Ethics Committee today publicly admonished Rangel for accepting corporation-funded trips to the Caribbean in violation of House gift rules.

At least three Democrats -- Reps. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., Paul Hodes, D-N.H., and Bobby Bright, D-Ala. -- have publicly stated that Rangel should now either step down or step aside until remaining ethics charges are resolved.

"I honor and respect Charlie Rangel's lifetime of service as a soldier serving our country in Korea and as a public servant," said Hodes in a statement. "Regrettably, with the finding of ethics violations, Charlie Rangel should step down from his leadership position."

Republicans have long pressed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to force Rangel to relinquish his chairmanship for what House Minority Leader John Boehner's, R-Ohio, spokesman called a "staggering array" of ethics violations.

Ken Spain with the National Republican Congressional Committee added to the criticism of Pelosi today, saying she "has been promoting corrupt actors within her caucus ranks when she should have been punishing them."

For now, Pelosi is standing by Rangel, telling reporters earlier today that the Ethics Committee report was an indictment of the congressman's staffers not him.

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

She acknowledged the ongoing investigation of other charges against Rangel and said that she will await those findings before making determinations on his chairmanship. "If this were the end of it, that would be one thing, but there's obviously more to come and we'll see what happens with that," Pelosi said.

The committee report showed Rangel staff members knew about the corporate funding and withheld the information from the Ethics Committee, which had approved the 2007 and 2008 trips on the false premise that they were financed by a nonprofit foundation.

Rangel will have to pay the U.S. Treasury the total cost of the trips.

Although the committee found no evidence that Rangel himself knew of the corporate funding, it said he is responsible for the actions of his staff, a notion Rangel disputes.

"Because they were my staff members who knew, one of whom has been discharged, [the committee has decided] that I should have known," Rangel told reporters Thursday night.

"Common sense dictates that members of Congress should not be held responsible for what could be the wrongdoing, or mistakes or errors of staff."

Rangel, who declined to take questions, said he would let people interpret for themselves what the ethics committee has concluded.

"I think right now I just have to let the general community make its own judgment based on what the ethics committee has said, and then I'll get back to you with a larger statement," he said.

The Ethics Committee is still investigating three more serious allegations against Rangel, including charges that he improperly obtained four rent-controlled apartments in New York City, improperly used his office to raise money for the Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York, and that he failed to disclose rental income from an apartment in the Dominican Republic.

Committee: Rangel Staff Knowingly Broke Travel Rules

Five other members of the Congressional Black Caucus -- Reps. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, Yvette Clarke of New York, Donald Payne of New Jersey, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick of Michigan and Donna Christensen, the nonvoting delegate from the Virgin Islands -- also went on the trips to Antigua, Barbuda and St. Maarten.

The committee found that none of them or their staff members knowingly broke any rules, but they too will have to repay the cost of the trips.

"Although the Committee approved the Members' travel, that approval was conditional upon the information provided to the Committee being true and correct. That was not the case," the report stated. "[But] since the Members were provided false information by others … the Committee concludes that the Members committed no wrongdoing."

In Rangel's case, the report noted, "The evidence shows that members of Rangel's staff knew that corporations had contributed funds … for the conferences. This information was not provided to the Standards Committee when he sought and received approval" to go on the trips.

Peter Flaherty of the National Legal and Policy Center, an ethics watchdog group, first filed the ethics complaint in May 2009.

"I traveled to St. Maarten [in 2008] and registered for the event under my own name. I paid a registration fee. Inside, I snapped photos and openly made audio recordings. It was quickly obvious that the event was funded by corporations that employ federal lobbyists," Flaherty wrote to the committee in a letter posted on the center's Web site.

Flaherty also provided audio and video recordings of the influence of corporate sponsors there, which included Citigroup, Pfizer, American Airlines, AT&T, Verizon, Macy's and IBM.

The House Ways and Means Committee, which Rangel heads, will be central to any overhaul of the nation's health care system and at the center of the debate about the future of broad tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush and set to expire in December.

ABC News' Dean Norland and Matt Loffman contributed to this report.