Susan Crabtree, The Hill, September 11, 2009
Congressional Black Caucus members are standing squarely behind one of their own: embattled Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.).
In separate interviews with The Hill, several members of the CBC, including Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-Mich.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) and Mel Watt (D-N.C.) all expressed unmitigated support for Rangel holding onto the Ways and Means post.
Overall, The Hill interviewed about a dozen members of the caucus, who all defended Rangel and said he is innocent until proven guilty.
The support from some of those closest to Rangel comes as the longtime lawmaker endures withering criticism from watchdog groups and calls from Republicans and editorial boards for him to resign his chairmanship.
The most recent criticism concerns amended financial disclosure forms that could nearly double Rangel’s net worth. Amended forms showed that Rangel had revealed at least $650,000 in undisclosed income.
Watchdog groups say the recent revelations show a pattern of failing to take ethics rules seriously, and the troubles come at a difficult time for Democrats, as Rangel chairs one of the committees charged with undertaking healthcare reform.
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the fifth most senior member of the Ways and Means panel, has been mentioned as a possible replacement if Rangel decided to step down or was forced out.
But Lewis would not even entertain the idea when asked about it.
Several CBC members took shots at newspapers that have called on Rangel to resign his chairmanship.
“The Washington Post has no say over what we do as members of this body, and they should keep their opinions to themselves,” Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) remarked.
“The Washington Post doesn’t vote here–the members do!” said a clearly irritated Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.). “In the United States of America, you’re still innocent until proven guilty.”
Several CBC members also said they weren’t worried that Rangel’s problems would become a political liability.
“I don’t think anyone sees this as anything more than a witch-hunt,” Fattah [Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.)] said.
Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), a 28-year House veteran, has served his entire tenure with Rangel, whom he called one of the most effective members in Congress.
“He knows how to pull people together–he’s a coalition-builder,” Towns said. “I would encourage people to look at the whole Rangel.”