Image: Charles Rangel
House Television  /  AP
Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., speaks on the House floor on Thursday: "I brought it on to myself."
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updated 12/2/2010 8:16:37 PM ET 2010-12-03T01:16:37

Veteran Rep. Charles Rangel, the raspy-voiced, backslapping former chairman of one of Congress' most powerful committees, was censured by his House colleagues for financial misconduct Thursday in a solemn moment of humiliation in the sunset of his career.

"I brought it on to myself," Rangel told the House. But he also said politics was at work.

After the 333-79 vote, the 80-year-old Democrat from New York's Harlem stood silently at the front of the House and faced Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she read him the formal resolution of censure.

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Then, in response, he admitted he had made mistakes, including his failure to pay all his taxes, filing misleading financial statements and improperly seeking money from corporate interests for a college center bearing his name.

But he also declared, "In my heart I truly feel good." He said, "A lot of it has to do with the fact that I know in my heart that I am not going to be judged by this Congress, but I am going to be judged by my life."

No practical effect
It was only the 23rd time in the nation's history that a House member received the most severe punishment short of expulsion. Besides the embarrassment, censure carries no practical effect and ends the more than two-year ordeal for the congressman who was re-elected to a 21st term last month with more than 80 percent of the vote.

Relief and defiance took over the moment Rangel finished speaking. Somber, Pelosi quietly slipped out of the chamber, but some Democrats gave him a standing ovation. Rangel made it only a third of the way up the aisle when a phalanx of well-wishers stopped and hugged him; he responded by saying something that made them laugh. He was smiling for the rest of the 10 minutes or so that it took to get through his colleagues to exit the chamber, his humiliation past.

Despite the censure, he contended in his response on the House floor that it had been proven that "at no time has it ever entered my mind to enrich myself or to do violence to the honesty that's expected of all of us in this House."

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"I am fully aware that this vote reflects perhaps the thinking not just of the members but the political side and the constituency of this body," he told his colleagues. Outside, he told reporters the censure vote was "very, very very political."

Still, the matter is likely to stain Rangel's half-century in public service. The House ethics committee last month found him guilty of 11 of 13 charges of financial misdeeds, including submitting misleading financial statements and failing to pay all his taxes.

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The chairman of the ethics committee, Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, said the censure her committee recommended was consistent with a Democratic pledge to run "the most honest, most open, most ethical Congress in history."

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She said Rangel "violated the public trust" while serving in influential positions including chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.

Allies try for reprimand
Rangel's predicament pained his many friends in the House. His staunchest allies — members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the New York delegation — tried to reduce the punishment to a simple reprimand Thursday, but that effort failed by a vote of 267-146.

Before the final vote, the dapper congressman, wearing a blue suit, powder blue tie and a blue handkerchief, was humble before his colleagues.

Image: Rep. Charles Rangel
Jonathan Ernst  /  Reuters
Rep. Charles Rangel leaves a news conference after his punishment for ethics violations on Thursday.

"I have made serious mistakes," he said, apologizing for the "awkward" position his troubles had placed them in. He was at times contrite, saying that members of Congress "have a higher responsibility than most people" for ethical conduct and that senior lawmakers like himself "should act as a model" for newer lawmakers.

A half-dozen members spoke in his defense, arguing a reprimand was appropriate and that censure had been used for members found guilty of sexual misconduct. Lofgren, though, suggested that today, expulsion would be appropriate for those types of misdeeds.

Difficult sunset
It's a difficult sunset for Rangel's long career. A jovial politician with a distinctive voice, Rangel was re-elected in November with more than 80 percent of the vote despite being under an ethics cloud for more than two years. He has argued that censure is reserved for corrupt politicians — and he's not one of them.

He also has been making a more personal plea, asking colleagues to remember that he won a Purple Heart after he was wounded in combat in Korea, to focus on his efforts for the underprivileged and to understand that he has great respect for the institution he has served for so long. He's tied for fourth in House seniority.

The House ethics committee painted Rangel as a congressman who ignored rules of conduct and became a tax scofflaw despite his knowledge of tax law from his long service on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.

Rangel chaired that panel until last March, when he stepped down after the committee — in a separate case — found that he improperly allowed corporations to finance two trips to Caribbean conferences.

Unpaid taxes on rental unit
Rangel shortchanged the IRS for 17 years by failing to pay taxes on income from his rental unit in a Dominican Republic resort. He filed misleading financial disclosure reports for a decade, leaving out hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets he owned.

He used congressional letterheads and staff to solicit donations for a monument to himself: a center named after him at City College of New York. The donors included businesses and their charitable foundations that had issues before Congress and, specifically, before the Ways and Means Committee.

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Rangel also set up a campaign office in the Harlem building where he lives, despite a lease specifying the unit was for residential use only.

He has paid the Treasury $10,422 and New York state $4,501 to fulfill an ethics committee recommendation. The amounts were to cover taxes he would have owed on his villa income had the statute of limitations not run out on his tax bills.

The last previous House censure was in 1983, when two members, Reps. Gerry E. Studds, D-Mass., and Daniel Crane, R-Ill., were disciplined for having sex with teenage pages. Nine House members have been reprimanded, the latest last year when Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C. was punished for yelling "You lie" at President Barack Obama.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Dems outvoted GOP on Rangel censure

  1. Closed captioning of: Dems outvoted GOP on Rangel censure

    >> david gregory is moderator of "meet the press," good morning to you. there's often no love lost between the two parties, the republicans and democrats, ahn times they seem to take delight in the shortcomings of the other and yet you look at this scene on the house floor yesterday, did anybody feel good about that?

    >> nobody did, there's no question about it and there was frankly more democrats who voted for the censure resolution than republicans, so this was a bipartisan vote, a painful vote. nobody likes to stand in judgment in such a humiliating way of their colleague but this is something that has been dragging on for a while and charlie rangel talking about the standards that were used, so fighting along the way and it made it more difficult for democratic leaders.

    >> let's talk about the so called bush tax cuts on thursday. the house voted to extend just the middle class tax cuts and that's a measure that has no chance of passing in the senate and it prompted this comment from the incoming speaker, in his words chicken crap, end quote. what happened to the spirit of cooperation that seemed to be somewhat present after that meeting at the white house a little earlier in the week?

    >> it's going to take a lot more than that meeting, the reality is you have a split here on the left. you have nancy pelosi and some democrats who don't want to go along with some kind of deal that seems to be coming down the pike between the republicans and the democrats for extending the tax cuts .

    >> what's in the deal?

    >> the deal would be if they get an extension of all the tax cuts for a temporary period of time, then you get a couple of things, including extension of unemployment benefits, which the president really wants and the left certainly wants. and then you have the s.t.a.r.t. amp arms treaty with russia.

    >> let's talk about the bipartisan deficit commission. they're going to vote saying they should send their budget cutting recommendations, when you talk to people in washington, is there the political will present right now to make the kinds of cuts, the difficult cuts that are required to fix the deficit problem?

    >> matt, i don't see it. you know, republicans don't want to raise taxes, democrats don't want to cut entitlements and i don't know how you get there from here. that's the difficulty, and it's a huge leadership challenge for the president who may have what's called a nixon to china moment. but it's going to be very difficult in this climate. there's a split on the right because you have prominent senate conservatives voting for this debt commission deal and then conservatives in the house voting against it because of the promise of tax hikes.

    >> what are we going to see when we tune in on sunday morning, david?

    >> more on this showdown between republicans and democrats. mit .

    >> david gregory in washington this morning. as always thanks very much.

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