updated 7/31/2008 9:14:51 PM ET 2008-08-01T01:14:51

House Democrats voted down a public reprimand Thursday that Republicans sought against influential Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., over a questionable housing arrangement that he insists violated no laws.

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Hours later, the House ethics committee announced it had opened an investigation, as Rangel recently requested.

Rangel, chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, has come under scrutiny over the past month for his use of four rent-stabilized apartments in a building in New York City's Harlem neighborhood.

A measure offered by House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Rangel "has dishonored himself and brought discredit to the House and merits the censure of the House for same."

Before the House debate, Boehner said in a statement that "instead of keeping their promise to 'drain the swamp' of corruption in Washington, House Democrats are sinking in it." Boehner accused Rangel of engaging in "sweetheart deals" that violate House rules.

Rangel tried to pre-empt the GOP effort by telling colleagues he would support the measure if they deleted the charge that he had discredited Congress and deserved censure.

"I'm asking the minority to allow me to join in with them in this resolution to say this matter should be cleared up, but there's no need, even for mean-spirited people in the minority to say that I'm a discredit to the United States Congress," Rangel said.

The censure measure was voted down 254-138; two dozen Republicans voting with the Democrats.

Under scrutiny
Rangel's use of the apartments came into question after a New York Times report that Rangel had four apartments in the same building, one of which served as a campaign office despite rules requiring such discounted apartments to be a tenant's primary residence.

New York City's rent stabilization law allows for people to pay less — in some cases, thousands of dollars a month less — than the market rate to rent their primary residence.

Though he removed the campaign office once questions were raised, Rangel has insisted he has done nothing wrong. He asked the House ethics committee to examine both the housing arrangement and his solicitation, on congressional stationery, of potential donors to a college center named after him.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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