Rangel Keeping Gavel as Succession Question Looms
UPDATE: Rangel is not stepping down from his post as Ways and Means chairman, according to his attorney, Lanny Davis. The New York Daily News quotes Davis as saying Rangel "never even considered the possibility."
With the New Yorker buffeted by several different allegations and facing a self-requested ethics committee probe, Republicans have called on Rangel to relinquish his gavel, and his fate was the apparent subject of a private meeting between him and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) Monday night. Though the New York Post reports Pelosi pressured Rangel to step down from his post, several sources tell Capitol Briefing that simply didn't happen, even if some Democrats privately hope he does relinquish the gavel. The decision on what to do next appears to be Rangel's alone, and he is meeting with close House allies today to decide on his next move.
What if he does step down?
According to House rules, "In the temporary absence of the chairman, the member next in rank as named in the resolution electing the committee acts as chairman." That would hand the Ways and Means gavel, temporarily at least, to Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), who is second on the committee roster behind Rangel.
But if Rangel permanently vacates the post, Democrats face a tough decision. Though Stark is next in line, seniority is no longer the only factor the party uses to hand out chairmanships. And the Californian has a long history of controversial outbursts -- including referring to a Republican leader's illegitimate child, calling a woman lawmaker a "whore" for the insurance industry, dubbing another member a "little fruitcake," likening the GOP to the Nazi party and suggesting American soldiers were being sent to die in Iraq "for the President's amusement."
In short, there is no way Democratic leaders will hand the reins of such an important committee to Stark. Next up on the seniority list is Rep. Sander Levin (Mich.) a veteran lawmaker who has worked mostly on trade issues and has also run the Social Security subcommittee. But if seniority really isn't the deciding factor, then Democrats could reach even further down the line -- past Reps. Jim McDermott (Wash.) and John Lewis (Ga.) -- to hand the gavel to Rep. Richard Neal (Mass.), who has a slightly more moderate record than the other members mentioned and is seen as having a bright future on the panel.
For now, House Democrats see these questions as wildly premature. Rangel is still the chairman, and even if he does step down temporarily, the majority hopes that the ethics panel will complete its investigation and allow him to return to the job by January. If he does, the House's term-limit rule would let Rangel hold the chairmanship for four more years. Maybe by 2012, the line of succession will be a little clearer than it is today.
UPDATE 12:50 PM: Capitol Briefing alumnus Paul Kane passes along that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) today rejected calls for Rangel to step aside, even temporarily, as committee chairman.
"No, I don't think there's any reason. He's done exactly what a member should do. And that is, ask the [ethics committee] to review all of the matters, all of the issues that have been raised," Hoyer said.
Instead, Hoyer said the Rangel matter should be put to rest as the ethics inquiries continue, and that he hoped the inquiry would be handled "expiditiously and thoroughly." Hoyer said there would likely be some small political fallout for Democrats but said they had to allow the internal investigation go forward before prejudging someone.
"Any time questions are raised about politicians it's a political question, but, the fact of the matter is, we have a process," he said.
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