WASHINGTON-The harshest punishment short of expulsion from Congress is censure, which the House Ethics Committee voted for 9-1 in finding that Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., was guilty of 11 of 13 counts of ethics violations. The full House will vote on the committee's recommendation after Thanksgiving. During the entire history of Congress, only 22 lawmakers have been censured.
When Rangel had a chance to make a statement before the committee left to deliberate over his punishment, he covered his face with his hands and then stood and delivered an impassioned speech asking the committee to make clear that he had not sought personal gain, but simply made sloppy mistakes. He cited his military service and his 50 years in public office.
"I'm not sure how much longer I have to live, but it will always be to try to help people," Rangel, 80, said. "I apologize for any embarrassment I've caused you individually or collectively."
The committee, in its report, wrote that Rangel had not sought personal financial gain, but its ruling was based "on the cumulative nature of the violations."
Censure is mostly symbolic: Rangel would have to stand on the House floor while the censure resolution is read aloud. He will also have to pay taxes he owes on his villa in the Dominican Republic. Once the head of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, Rangel was convicted for underreporting his own income and assets.
"The failure to pay taxes for 17 years. What is that?" asked Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, at the hearing to determine Rangel's punishment.
The ethics committee had investigated Rangel for more than two years on ethics violations. Rangel walked out of his ethics trial before the committee earlier in the week, complaining that he had not been treated "fairly" because he didn't have a lawyer. Rangel's lawyers withdrew from the case soon after the announcement of the ethics hearings, evidently because Rangel ran out of money to pay them after he racked up about $2 million in legal fees over the last two years.
"Mr. Rangel should only look into the mirror if he wants to know who to blame," said Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Ala., the top Republican on the ethics committee.