Perhaps the most spirited defense of New York Rep. Charles B. Rangel did not come from Rangel himself but from Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), who served on the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct investigative subcommittee.
Scott dissented “from the views expressed by a majority of the investigative subcommittee,” making a compelling argument for a lower sanction on Rangel’s behalf. In a letter to Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose), chairwoman of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, Scott maintained that Rangel’s conduct was the “result of good faith mistakes and misunderstandings of legal standards and the scope of his official duties. His violations of House rules were caused by his sloppy and careless recordkeeping, but were not criminal or corrupt.”
Scott submitted an extensive, if not exhaustive, review of sanctions against members of the House of Representatives about four months ago on August 12. However, Scott’s “minority viewpoint” seems to have been unauthorized and apparently had no effect on the outcome. After fellow New York congressman, Republican Peter T. King, came to Rangel’s defense just before the vote last Thursday, Chairwoman Lofgren insisted that Rangel had “violated the public trust” and “brought discredit to the House.”
The full House voted overwhelmingly to censure the 80-year-old congressman by a count of 333 to 79. Although the House has broad discretionary powers to punish a member for misconduct, censure generally results in public rebuke and being barred from the chairmanship of committees or subcommittees.
Scott has through the years positioned himself as a “champion of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights” by “fighting to protect the rights and civil liberties of all Americans,” according to his official web site. The Newport News native is a graduate of Harvard College and Boston College Law School. He is of both African American and Filipino heritage.
Scott did agree that “Representative Rangel’s violations of various House rules and other applicable standards warrant a serious sanction.” He argued for a letter of reproval, rather than a reprimand.
However, the House voted to go well beyond a reprimand to censure. The only worse sanction is expulsion from the legislative body.
Nevertheless, the 60-plus-page review by Scott is impressive in its scope and historical perspective. “The Standards Committee has publicly admonished members for a wide range of violations, including conduct more serious than that engaged in by Representative Rangel here,” he stated in the review.
In one example, the review compares Rangel’s offenses to those of former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, whom the investigative subcommittee found had offered to trade his endorsement of Rep. Nick Smith’s son’s congressional candidacy “in exchange for Representative Nick’s Smith’s vote in favor of the Medicare Prescription Drug Act.” DeLay and two other congressmen were “publicly admonished” regarding their conduct in the matter.
The next year, Delay was publicly admonished again for “participating in and facilitating an energy company fundraiser, which created an appearance that ‘donors were being provided special access to [him] regarding the then-pending energy legislation, H.R. 4, was about to get underway.’”
Delay was further “cited for his intervention in a partisan conflict in the Texas House of Representatives using the resources of a Federal agency, the Federal Aviation Administration.
Despite Representative DeLay’s conduct and leadership position, a public letter of reproval was deemed the appropriate sanction,” the review stated.
Scott’s review went on to cite other instances of Delay’s rule-breaking. “Representative Delay’s conduct was exacerbated by his leadership position in the House of Representatives, but he was not asked or required to relinquish this position as part of any sanction; Representative Rangel has already stepped down as Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee as a result of this investigation.”
The review goes on to cite misdeeds by many other House members, including those by Newt Gingrich, Earl F. Hilliard, Charles G. Rose III, E.G. “Bud” Shuster, Richard H. Stallings, Charles H. Wilson, and others that seem as bad or worse than those Rangel committed.
Underneath what some consider inconsistent actions by the Ethics Committee bubbles the impression that the game changes when Black officials cross the same line as Whites. That change usually results in a harsher punishment, it is believed.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, termed the punishment of Rangel “overly harsh,” but not all Black leaders take this view. For his part, Rangel seems to have accepted his punishment with contrition and moved on.
“Now that the Ethics proceedings have passed, I will put the pain behind me as well,” said the congressman of 40 years in a press release. “I will focus on lessening the pain of the American people during these challenging times in our country.”
As reported in the Aug. 5-11 issue of Our Weekly, some six other Black representatives and one senator are currently under investigation by the Ethics Committee, including California congresswomen Maxine Waters and Laura Richardson; Mel Watts (D-N.C.), Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), and Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.).