House Republicans failed Wednesday for a third time to oust Rep. Charles Rangel as chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, but they kept the political spotlight on his ethical problems.
The House voted 246-153 along mostly partisan lines to refer a GOP resolution to remove Rangel to the House ethics committee. The Democratic maneuver rendered the Republican effort meaningless, since Democratic leaders have said they have no intention of removing Rangel while the ethics committee is conducting a long-term investigation of his conduct.
The ethics committee's investigation of Rangel's financial and fundraising activities has been under way for about a year, and that has provided Democrats political cover to avoid taking action.
"We ought to allow that work to continue and to be completed and receive their recommendation, and we will do that," Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Tuesday, when asked how Democrats would respond to the Republican effort.
Taxes, income probed
It is unclear how long the ethics investigation will continue, but the closer it gets to the 2010 elections the bigger problem for Democrats. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has promised to drain the swamp of unethical conduct that plagued Republicans several years ago — and helped cost the GOP control of the House in the 2006 elections.
Rangel, a New York Democrat, faces allegations of financial improprieties, including failure to pay taxes on investment income and neglecting to report assets and income on his congressional financial disclosure forms.
House GOP leadership spokesman Michael Steel said the attempt to remove Rangel "highlights the Democrats' broken promises" for an open and ethical Congress.
"Obviously, given that House Democratic leaders haven't chosen to do the right thing, an important part of our strategy is to make sure the American people know they're trying to sweep these matters under the rug," Steel said. "The American people will certainly remember the Democrats' broken promises on these issues."
Earmarks under review
The ethics committee is conducting investigations of six Democrats besides Rangel and one Republican. The committee also is reviewing the practice of lawmakers steering money and contracts to favored companies, and then receiving campaign contributions in return for the "earmarks."
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of a subcommittee that dispenses defense dollars, is the most prominent figure in that review, although members of both parties used the same fundraising practices.
A review determines whether an investigation will be initiated.
Conservative Republican talk radio hosts have been using Rangel's case to attack the conduct of Democrats and ridicule Pelosi's promises to clean house.