Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Cats Are Meowing For Charlie

Charlie Rangel, the smooth-talking gadfly serving as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is a cat with nine lives. One might say this seasoned pol from Harlem is ethically challenged in today's world casting spotlights on influence peddling from lobbyists.

"I think he comes from a different day at school, where there weren't these ethics laws . . . where there wasn't the glare of public scrutiny," said Patrick Kennedy, the retiring Democratic representative from Rhode Island.
The first in a series of ethics violations were handed down Friday by the House Committee on Standards and Official Conduct  against Rangel. He was the only one of four legislators admonished for accepting corporate-paid travel expenses for trips to the Caribbean in 2007 and 2008.

Before we dive into any more of Rangel's ethical ennui, let's cut to the political chase. At least six times, Republicans have called for his resignation from the powerful committee he chairs. Now, at least one Democrat has joined the chorus.

A defiant Charlie counters never. He has the support of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And, I concur. For now.

It is one thing to defile Charlie as a tax and spend flaming liberal. But to strip him of leadership for a penny ante fling is quite another. If nothing else, Charlie knows the House, has built relationships with Congressmen for more than two decades and can move legislation. He cajoles, backslaps, and twists arms. He is the consummate deal maker. That's the essence of what good chairmen do.

In defending her friend, Pelosi noted the report said only his staff, not Charlie, knew about the trip sponsors, and that's why he was admonished. “They did not take action against him,” she said. “They just said he did not willfully break the rules,” in a classic case of verbal parsing.

As much as I admire Charlie, I would keep a close eye on him if we were playing poker.

While Rangel may have thrown his staff under the bus, the other involved persons not only defied logic but demonstrated acute cases of amnesia. They said they were unaware the trip was sponsored even though they posed for pictures under corporate logos and banners.

Cleared were Reps. Yvette Clarke of New York, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Donald M. Payne of New Jersey as well as Virgin Islands delegate  Donna M. Christensen

Among the sponsors underwriting the non-profit conference hosts to resorts in St. Maarten and Antigua were CitiGroup, AT&T, IBM, Pfizer and Verizon.

Much more serious are these other ethical violations in which Rangel is fighting: 

Failure to pay taxes on a villa he owns in the Dominican Republic, the use of his congressional office to raise money for the wing of a New York college named in his honor, revised financial disclosure forms that show more than $500,000 in previously unreported wealth, and his use of a rent-controlled apartment for his political committees.

Among actions the House ethics panel could recommend is turning their findings over to the Department of Justice. Then and only then is when I would ask Charlie to step down if not resign from the House. for the last of his nine cats by then will have been sacrificed.

But until then, the political pandering proceeds. I loved this metaphoric jab:

"Pelosi and her allies refuse to listen to themselves," Ken Spain, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a statement. "The Speaker promised the run the 'most ethical congress in history' and instead the voters got an out-of-touch, tone-deaf majority that appears to be belly flopping into the very swamp they promised to drain."

At least one Democrat is calling for Charlie's resignation. He is Rep. Paul Hodes of New Hampshire who's distancing himself from the taint of corruption while seeking a bid for U.S. Senator in that wholesome state.

Public interest groups also entered the fray. Their complaint is that the House can't hold its own members accountable. Said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington:
“The report simply defies logic. The committee apparently views its job to clear members of Congress of allegations of misconduct, not to sanction members or do full and fair investigations.” The case against Rangel and others involved 2,500 pages of documents.

Poor Charlie. The road kill is shrinking his cat population.

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