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When Will It Be Time to Give Rangel a Shove?

Eugene Robinson is trying to save the Democrats from themselves. He writes on the ethically challenged chairman of the Ways and Means Committee:

House Democrats had better start taking the ethics allegations against Rep. Charlie Rangel seriously. I know it’s difficult for those steeped in Capitol Hill’s hermetic culture to understand, but a verdict of “mistakes were made” — which a lot of Democrats would like to reach — doesn’t cut it in the real world. . . . The real problem, though, is the overall portrait of a wealthy and privileged congressional pasha to whom ordinary rules don’t apply.

It is a bizarre sort of compromise that House Democrats have seized upon. They are defending his chairmanship but expanding the ethics probe. It might seem odd that in the flurry of subpoenas, Rangel still sits atop the committee charged with drafting tax laws and conducting oversight of the IRS. It will seem odd to voters, too, should he remain. And Robinson is plainly nervous: “Speaker Nancy Pelosi may owe her job to Rangel, but she needs to press the ethics committee to do its work without fear or favor. And she needs to contemplate the prospect of explaining to voters, come next fall, why the affluent man who sets their taxes didn’t pay his.”

Pelosi owes her position to Rangel, so she’s not about to create a firestorm, which surely would ensue if she, as Politico explained, “relented and asked Rangel to relinquish his gavel” — which would mean “she would be moving to oust a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus from a chairmanship he waited nearly four decades to get.” You can hear the cries of disparate treatment now: “Murtha and Moran are crooks too and they’re not being asked to go!” Well, yes, it would be easier if all the ethically disabled were asked to leave en masse. But then who’d run all the committees?

Once health-care reform is “done,” maybe Pelosi’s spine will stiffen and there will be less resistance to removing Rangel from such a visible leadership spot. But for now, Pelosi seems willing to hunker down, endure the headlines, and watch the approval rating of Congress plummet. No, Pelosi’s not much interested in “draining the swamp,” as she once put it — at least not now. There are taxes to be raised — at least on those who pay them. And Rangel is just the one to shepherd the hikes through, although he might want to spare any high-minded rhetoric or appeals to patriotism that usually accompanies these efforts.


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