Friday, February 26, 2010

The Meaning of Rangel's Admonishment

Let's not kid ourselves, the fact that the House Ethics Committee has decided to admonish Rep. Charlie Rangel for improper behavior isn't going to amount to a hill of beans for the longtime Harlem congressman. He will still get re-elected in a walk from his district.

The bigger question will be how Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer respond. Remember when Nancy Pelosi promised the most ethical Congress ever? Remember when Pelosi and Hoyer slammed former Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay when he was admonished for essentially the same offenses as Rangel?

In order to avoid cries of hypocrisy, Pelosi and Hoyer are penned in by their own actions. They will almost have to strip Rangel of his powerful position as House Ways and Means Chairman.

The ethical problems for Rangel are not done, this admonishment deals only with improperly paid corporate trips. Rangel is still facing ethical charges
including his use of rent-stabilized apartment, his fundraising on behalf of a research institute bearing his name, and his failure to declare hundreds of thousands of dollars on income and assets on annual financial-disclosure reports.
So the question is how far can this go for Rangel? In theory he could be expelled from the House (although such a sanction is unlikely).

The biggest question is how much more damage to their reputation can Congress take? With historically low approval ratings, Congress needs to be doing it better, cleaner, and clearer than ever before. Rangel is an extreme example of how far that the ethical standards can be pushed, but Americans have long lost faith in Congress and Rangel (and others) are not helping the institution repair its image with the voters.

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