House Democrats stymied on successor to Rangel
By Paul Kane and Perry Bacon Jr.
After hours of meetings Wednesday afternoon, House Democrats could not settle on a successor to Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
Hours after Rangel took a leave of absence amid an ethics scandal, rank-and-file Democrats on the committee staged a rebellion against the planned ascension of Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark (D-Calif.) to be chairman on an interim basis.
Under House rules, the most senior person on a panel is supposed to be elevated to chairman once there is a vacancy. But Stark, 78, who was hospitalized a year ago with pneumonia, has not revealed what illness has continued to cause him to regularly miss votes. Since the start of the 111th Congress in January 2009, Stark has missed more than 250 votes, including a set of roll calls Tuesday night.
"No decision. There"s a lot to go through," Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), a member of the committee and party leadership, told reporters after exiting the meeting. It was the third closed-door huddle of the day for Ways and Means Democrats, nearly four hours of meetings without any resolution. They plan to reconvene Thursday.
Normally the most powerful House committee, Ways and Means has languished in prestige during the 18 months Rangel has been under investigation, which has served as a distraction for Democrats.
The committee is supposed to serve as the point for most health-care legislation and all tax legislation, but Ways and Means increasingly found itself outflanked by other panels or overruled by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's leadership team during recent legislative battles.
On Thursday Rangel served as a Democratic spokesman at President Obama's bipartisan summit on health-care legislation -- only to discover hours later that the ethics committee was releasing his admonishment.
Pelosi, who issued a statement praising Rangel's "decades of leadership," convened a series of meetings with Democrats on the committee trying to resolve the dispute. At one such meeting, Stark, who once called a group of conservative Democrats "brain-dead" and called one Republican "a whore for the insurance industry", told his colleagues he take the gavel only on an interim basis.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which Rangel helped co-found in 1971, questioned the appropriateness of his admonishment, based on staff knowledge that corporations were paying for the trips. Some CBC members pushed for a civil rights legend, 70-year-old Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), to vault over a pair of other, more senior lawmakers to succeed Rangel.
March 3, 2010; 7:08 PM ET
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