Rep. Charles Rangel announced this morning he will temporarily step down as chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, saying he didn't want his ethics controversy to jeopardize election prospects for fellow Democrats. The 20-term Harlem congressman held a news conference on short notice, telling reporters, "My chairmanship is bringing so much attention to the press, and in order to avoid my colleagues having to defend me during their elections, I have this morning sent a letter" asking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "to grant me a leave of absence until such time as the ethics committee completes its work." The 79-year-old Rangel's predicament was another jarring setback for President Barack Obama and majority Democrats in Congress, coming at a time when the party is scrambling to save sweeping health care overhaul legislation that has been pending on Capitol Hill for well over a year and still assessing a surging anti-incumbent fervor among the voters. Pelosi issued a statement today acknowledging Rangel's request for a leave. "I commend Chairman Rangel for hi s decades of leadership on jobs, health care, and the most significant economic issues of the day," she said. Republicans had been calling for Rangel to step aside since last year, when the House ethics panel expanded its investigation into his trips, assets and income, use of rent-controlled apartments in New York and his solicitation of contributions for university center to be named after him. After the panel released its findings last Friday on the Caribbean trips, Rangel started losing support among rank-and-file Democrats as well who said he should step aside as chairman, at least temporarily. Among them is Democratic Rep. Artur Davis, a fellow member of the Congressional Black Caucus who is running for governor of Alabama. "I respect his leadership but I believe Congress needs to do more to restore the public trust ," Davis said before Rangel's announcement. Rangel's departure from the Ways and Means chairmanship raised questions about his replacement. Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark of California is the most senior Democrat on Ways and Means, but there's no certainty that Pelosi would name him to fill in for Rangel. Stark chairs the panel's health subcommittee.
Rangel stepping down from chairmanship
Published: Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010
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