Popular Harlem Congressman Charlie Rangel stood solemnly before House colleagues Thursday as they censured him for financial misconduct, dealing a blow to his legacy and pride.
The overwhelming 333-79 vote against the 40-year Democratic veteran, convicted last month of 11 ethics violations, makes him the 23rd House member to be censured and the first since 1983.
Rangel, 80, addressed the House after Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s matter-of-fact, 22-second rebuke with characteristically dramatic flourish.
“I know in my heart that I’m not going to be judged by this Congress, but … by my life, my activities and my contributions to society,” he said.
“At the end of the day, compared to where I’ve been, I haven’t had a bad day since,” said Rangel, evoking his time as a soldier in the Korean War, during which he was nearly killed.
In a post-censure news conference, the “Lion of Lenox Avenue” adopted a more combative tone, stressing the politically charged atmosphere on the Hill.
“I’m here. I’m strong and I cannot complain,” Rangel said. Rangel admitted that what he did “was wrong; it was a mistake,” but he insisted that he “has not done anything corrupt.”
Ethics Committee chair Rep. Zoe Lofgren (R-Calif.) said Rangel failed his constituents when he snubbed income taxes on his Dominican Republican villa, used a rent-stabilized Harlem residence as a campaign office and used congressional staff to fund raise. The misconduct was made worse by the fact that Rangel was chair of the powerful tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, she said.
“It brought discredit to the House. … We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard,” Lofgren said. “Mr. Rangel himself has acknowledged that.”
Several colleagues futilely pleaded for reprimand rather than censure on the House floor.
“If expulsion is the death penalty, then censure is life in prison,” said Rep. Peter King, a Long Island Republican. “I have found no case where charges similar or analogous to those against Congressman Rangel resulted in censure.”
The last censures, in 1983, were imposed on Reps. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) and Dan Crane (R-Ill.) for inappropriate sexual relations with congressional pages.
Democratic political consultant Basil Smikle said that Rangel is likely steeling himself for what comes next.
“Being admonished by his coworkers has got to personally and professionally be difficult. He’s probably more experienced than 90 percent of them,” Smikle said. “He doesn’t want this to be his last act as a legislator, so he has to be anxious to get back to his district and work really hard.”
Aside from the embarrassment, censure carries no practical effect and ends the more-than-two-year ordeal for Rangel who was re-elected to a 21st term last month with more than 80 percent of the vote.