The House ethics committee slapped Harlem Congressman Charles Rangel with censure Thursday, a shocking and severe penalty that would require a humiliating public rebuke.
The recommendation will be voted upon by the full House after Thanksgiving. If it’s approved, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will formally chastise Rangel on the chamber floor in front of his colleagues. The ruling deals a stunning blow to the political legend’s legacy.
It came just hours after the 20-term lawmaker launched a tearful defense of his public service record. Rangel injected fresh drama into the hearing by inviting civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) to speak on his behalf.
“Charlie Rangel is a good and decent man,” said Lewis, evoking Rangel’s participation in the 1965 Selma, Ala., marches.
Rangel, 80, tempered his tone but maintained a defiant air in pleading for “fairness and mercy” before the committee’s decision.
“I don’t know how much longer I have to live,” he said, later adding, “There is no excuse for my behavior, but there was no attempt to go beyond what was given to me as my salary. There was no attempted to enrich myself.”
Rangel is the first politician in three decades to face censure. The committee Thursday also recommended that he be required to repay outstanding taxes relating to his 11 counts of financial misconduct.
In his first remarks in the hearing since sweeping out dramatically on Monday, Rangel admitted making mistakes and apologized for the “shame” he brought down on his office and the House. He maintained, however, that he is not a crooked lawmaker.
Rangel, who’s served 40 years in his seat, is still beloved by constituents in Harlem, where he easily won reelection earlier this month.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), the incoming chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, during Thursday’s hearing offered an emotional statement to Fox News. “This is the saddest day in the life of Charlie Rangel. … He can’t possibly have joy in his heart.”