Key panel chairman steps aside during ethics probe
WASHINGTON – Democratic Rep. Charles B. Rangel, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee who has been dogged by ethics questions, temporarily stepped down from the powerful post Wednesday, shaking up the panel at a critical time for Democrats.
California Rep. Pete Stark, a Democrat and one of the most liberal and outspoken members of the House, is due to take over the influential committee, which writes tax legislation and has sweeping power over any measure that impacts revenue.
The ascension of Stark, a congressman since the Nixon presidency and dean of the California congressional delegation, “should energize the committee,” said Rick Weissenstein, a health care analyst with Washington Research Group, a policy and market research company.
Weissenstein said Stark could be expected to put a greater focus on future health care issues, but Democratic lawmakers said the switch is unlikely to complicate their efforts to pass the current health care overhaul because those bills have long left the committee.
Still, the move is a blow to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who backed Rangel even as his ethics woes mounted. With the death last month of Rep. John P. Murtha, D-Pa., Pelosi has lost two influential allies in leadership roles.
Rangel sent a brief letter to Pelosi early Wednesday, saying he would surrender his gavel as long as a House ethics committee continued its investigation. The letter came ahead of a vote on a Republican-offered resolution to push Rangel from his chairmanship.
On Tuesday, it appeared that a significant number of Democrats were going to vote for Rangel’s ouster.
Last week the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct found that Rangel knowingly violated House rules by going on two corporate junkets to the Caribbean in 2007 and 2008.
The ethics committee is also investigating Rangel’s ownership of several rent-controlled apartments in New York, his failure to pay taxes on an offshore rental property and his use of his office letterhead to solicit donations for a public-policy school that would bear his name.