Veteran Rep. Charles Rangel Faces Rebuke Before Peers

Rep. Charles Rangel faces censure on House floor if peers approve penalty.

WASHINGTON, Nov. 19, 2010 — -- Veteran Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, who was found guilty of multiple ethics violations this week, is facing the U.S. Congress' most stringent punishment short of expulsion -- a formal censure, or oral rebuke, on the floor of the House.

The House Ethics Committee voted 9 to 1 Thursday to recommend Rangel be censured and forced to pay restitution on unpaid taxes for his vacation home in the Dominican Republic. It was only the fourth time in committee history that a penalty of censure had been imposed.

"We have worked hard together in this matter in a way that has been actually quite wrenching," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., who chaired the committee of five Republicans and five Democrats. "We are satisfied to be concluded."

The full House must now vote -- likely after Thanksgiving -- on whether to approve the penalty or impose a different one.

If a simple majority affirms the committee's recommended penalty, Rangel, 80, would then be forced to appear in the well of the House, where members stand when they address the chamber, and hear the charges against him read by the speaker of the House.

The recommended punishment of censure is a remarkable fall from grace for a 20-term congressman, who once authored the country's tax laws as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and would be a humiliating stain on his storied legacy.

Rangel pleaded with his peers Thursday not to let the two-and-a-half year ethics ordeal color his 40 years of public service.

"There's no way to stretch this that I'm a corrupted individual," he said, fighting back tears. "There's no excuse for my behavior and there was no intent for me ever to go beyond what was given to me as a salary. I never attempted to enrich myself. And I walk away no matter what your decision, grateful that I had this opportunity to serve."

Rep. John Lewis Stands by Rangel

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who was not a member of the committee but made a surprise appearance in support of Rangel, defended a man he called "friend, colleague, brother."

"He came to Selma, [Ala.], and he walked with many of us, including Dr. Martin Luther King," said Lewis. "He sponsored and passed progressive legislation. ... Charlie Rangel is a good and decent man. I know this man. I think I know his heart."

But many members of the committee said it was hard to believe Rangel did not know what he did was wrong.

Rangel was found guilty of 11 of 13 ethics charges, including improper fundraising, inappropriate possession of multiple rent-controlled apartments and failure to pay taxes on a vacation home.

Republican Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas offered the most dramatic statements against Rangel's behavior during the hearing, questioning his insistence that he wasn't corrupt.

"Failure to pay taxes for 17 years. What is that?" McCaul said.

McCaul also doubted the integrity of Rangel's solicitation of donations for a community center being built in his name from people who came before the Ways and Means Committee.

"Mr. Rangel should only look into the mirror if he wants to know who to blame," said Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Ala., the ranking Republican on the committee. "I know, and I believe we all know, that it should not take either a law degree or a legal dictionary to determine the difference between right and wrong."

The penalty of censure is reserved for "more serious" offenses, according to House rules, and is the most stringent punishment Congress can impose short of expulsion.

The House most recently censured Rep. Gerry Studds in 1983 for inappropriate sexual behavior with a congressional page.

"It's all very sad," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the public interest group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "Somebody who was previously highly respected and beloved has allowed his name to be dragged through the mud."

ABC News' Ariane de Vogue contributed to this report.