WASHINGTON Democratic Representative Charles Rangel said on Tuesday he was not resigning in the face of ethics charges and asked for an expedited resolution of his case before he has to face voters in November elections.
"I am not going away. I am here," Rangel said to some applause during a lengthy, rambling speech on the floor of the House of Representatives.
Rangel, formerly one of the House's most powerful members as chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, apologized for any embarrassment he had caused lawmakers.
The House Ethics Committee charged Rangel with 13 violations last month, including omitting information on financial disclosure forms, using a rent-stabilized apartment for his campaign committee, and failure to report income from renting out his villa in the Dominican Republic.
Rangel denied he was corrupt and told House members that if they thought he should resign, they should just expel him.
"If it is the judgment of people here, for whatever reason, that I resign, then heck, have the Ethics Committee expedite this. Don't leave me swinging in the wind until November," he said.
"If I can't get my dignity back here, then fire your best shot in getting rid of me through expulsion."
Democrats have urged the New York lawmaker, one of the most senior members of Congress, to settle the charges to avoid an Ethics Committee trial they fear could hurt them in the November congressional elections where they are struggling to retain their majorities.
'PROCESS IS MOVING FORWARD'
After Rangel's speech, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a brief statement saying the Ethics Committee was the "proper arena" for such matters to be discussed. She noted the panel was independent and bipartisan -- it has five Democrats and five Republicans.
"The process is moving forward in a way that will ensure that the highest ethical standards are upheld in the House of Representatives," Pelosi said.
Rangel stepped down in March as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee after the ethics panel, in a separate case, admonished him for corporate-sponsored trips in 2007 and 2008, in violation of House gifts rules.
If convicted of the new charges, Rangel could again be admonished or censured. Expulsion would require the approval of the full House, which ethics experts have said seems unlikely.
Rangel complained the investigation had dragged on two years and he had spent $2 million in legal fees but a hearing had still not been set. One is expected in September.
"I'm 80 years old, I don't want to die before the hearing," Rangel said. Addressing some specific charges, including soliciting donations on congressional stationery, he said he made mistakes and broke some rules.
"There has to be a penalty for grabbing the wrong stationery and not really doing the right thing, but it's not corrupt. It may be stupid, it may be negligent, but it's not corrupt."
"I apologize for any embarrassment that I've caused," Rangel told the House.
He did not agree with those who thought President Barack Obama had been signaling he should quit. The president recently said the charges against Rangel were "very troubling" and that he hoped Rangel could end his career "with dignity."
(Editing by Bill Trott and Peter Cooney)