Rep. Stark in line to succeed Rangel as committee chair
Updated 6:33 p.m.
By Paul Kane
The man in line to succeed Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee is a 78-year-old Californian with his own recent ethics battles, a representative who has a history of calling his Republican colleagues "wimps" and "whores", and who has missed more than 250 roll-call votes while battling an illness he has not publicly disclosed.
Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark (D-Calif.) is second in seniority behind Rangel, who announced a leave of absence Wednesday in the wake of an admonishment by the House ethics committee. Lawmakers said Wednesday that Democratic caucus rules dictate that Stark succeed Rangel, but they were unwilling to make that official after meeting for several hours.
"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. House Democrats plan to reconvene Thursday.
At a morning meeting of committee Democrats, Stark told his colleagues he would take the gavel only on an interim basis and would not seek to retain it after the midterm elections in November, no matter what the outcome is of the ongoing Rangel ethics probes, according to lawmakers in attendance.
"I think this is an interim position," said Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), a senior member of the committee, who many consider a potential chairman candidate. Some rank-and-file members of the powerful Ways and Means Committee -- with jurisdiction over tax and trade issues, as well as entitlements -- have been agitating for a more robust junior member of the panel to take the gavel, citing the diminished prominence of the oldest committee in Congress during the 18-month investigation of Rangel's ethics.
Stark's office did not respond to requests for comment.
The most immediate challenge for Stark is his health, as he has been battling a secretive ailment for the past year. Since the start of the 111th Congress in January 2009, he has missed more votes than any House member who was not nominated to an Obama administration position or seeking higher office. Stark has not told his colleagues what his illness is, and he was not on hand for votes Tuesday evening as Rangel was battling an insurrection from fellow Democrats.
Elevating Stark, even if it is just on an interim basis, could also provide Republicans with another chairman to use as a political prop.
The ethics committee just cleared Stark of wrongdoing in his effort to claim the homestead tax credit for his Maryland home, a benefit that is only supposed to be given to homeowners whose main residence is in the state and who are registered to vote there.
As a congressman, he is required to have his primary residence in the Golden State, which in his case is a rental unit in his East Bay district in northern California. The ethics committee found that, based on an internal state mechanism, Stark was automatically given the tax credit on his Anne Arundel County home, and he did not seek it himself. However, according to reports from congressional investigators, Stark became "belligerent" and secretly made a video recording of an interview with them.
That's one in a series of episodes in which Stark behaved erratically.
A 2003 San Francisco Chronicle editorial, entitled "Pete Stark's tiring tirades", highlighted several such moments. At a July 2003 Ways and Means Committee hearing, he called a Republican "a little wimp" and "a little fruitcake", sparking a near brawl. Capitol Police were eventually called to the scene to help restore order.
In a 2001 debate he accused then-Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), the only African-American Republican in Congress, of fathering all his children "out of wedlock", a false accusation that prompted angry denunciations from Watts. And he once publicly accused then-Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.), whose district included many insurance companies, of being a "whore for the insurance industry."
March 3, 2010; 2:34 PM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency , Capitol Briefing , Ethics
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