WASHINGTON — House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, under pressure from an ethics investigation and under fire from Republicans, requested a leave of absence from his chairmanship Wednesday.
Rangel, D-N.Y., announced that he was leaving the chairmanship temporarily on a day that House Republicans were to demand that he give up his gavel after the House ethics committee admonished him for taking corporate-paid trips to the Caribbean.
"In order to avoid my colleagues having to defend me during their elections, I have this morning sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi asking her to grant me a leave of absence until such time as the ethics committee completes its work," Rangel said in a hastily arranged Capitol Hill news conference.
The one-paragraph letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., read: "I respectfully request a leave of absence from my duties and responsibilities as chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means until such time as the Committee on Standards completes its findings on the review currently under way."
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Rangel didn't take questions from reporters but added as he exited the news conference: "From the very beginning, I offered this to Speaker Pelosi."
Pelosi and other Democratic leaders had given Rangel tepid support before his action Wednesday.
The ethics committee publicly admonished Rangel for taking two corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean in 2007 and 2008, though the committee said it had no proof that the 20-term Democrat knew about the corporate funding.
Rangel is still under ethics investigation for a host of alleged violations, ranging from failing to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in income and assets to the use of several rent-controlled apartments in New York, fundraising efforts for a center that bears his name at New York's City College and failing to pay taxes on property he owns in the Dominican Republic.
Rangel's troubles have emboldened House Republicans and have made Democrats, who are bracing for large losses in November's midterm elections, more nervous.
House Republicans were poised to introduce a nonbinding resolution Wednesday demanding that Rangel relinquish his chairmanship. Republicans had introduced similar resolutions in the past that drew scant Democratic support.
After the ethics committee's admonishment of Rangel, however, an increasing number of Democrats said they'd vote for the resolution or that they were returning campaign contributions they'd received from Rangel.
Rangel suffered a significant blow when Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and an Alabama gubernatorial candidate, urged him to step aside as Ways and Means chairman. The caucus previously had solidly supported Rangel.
"An ethics committee admonishment is a serious event and Representative Rangel should do the right thing and step aside as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee," Davis said in a statement that was first reported by The Hill newspaper.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, praised Rangel for his decision Wednesday.
"Any serious ethical violation creates a problem for the entire institution. That's why it's important that Mr. Rangel took the step that he did," Kucinich said on C-SPAN. "That's a big decision on his part, especially with all the important legislation that goes through the committee, but I support his decision."
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