WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives censured veteran Democrat Charles Rangel for ethics violations on Thursday, forcing the former chief tax writer to face a humiliating public rebuke before his colleagues.
Under terms of the censure, Rangel was required to stand in the front of the House chamber as Speaker Nancy Pelosi outlined his misconduct. Rangel stood calmly facing Pelosi, arms folded, as she read a brief statement.
The New York congressman apologized but told the House he did not deserve censure. He said later that politics drove the House’s decision more than facts.
“The vote for censure was a very, very, very political vote,” he told reporters afterward. “There’s no evidence that I did anything to enrich myself or that I did anything corrupt.”
The censure, the most severe form of House punishment available short of expulsion, was approved on an overwhelming 333-79 vote. It was the 23rd House censure and the first in 27 years.
The House Ethics Committee convicted Rangel last month of 11 House rules violations, including concealing assets, failing to pay taxes on his beach villa in the Dominican Republic and misusing his office to raise money for a public policy center that bears his name.
Rangel asked his colleagues to back a reduced punishment of a written reprimand, which would not have required a public rebuke. He said censure was reserved for the worst forms of corruption and his violations did not meet that standard.
“I have made serious mistakes,” Rangel told House members before the vote. “I brought it on myself, but I still believe that this body has to be guided by fairness.”
The House rejected an amendment to reduce the punishment to reprimand by 267-146.
The ethics investigation forced the 80-year-old Rangel to give up the chairmanship of the powerful tax-writing Ways and Means Committee earlier this year and embarrassed Democrats who had promised to run a clean Congress.
The case was not a campaign handicap for Rangel, who won re-election in November to a 21st term representing New York’s Harlem district with 80 percent of the vote.
Fellow Democratic Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia led the defense for the charismatic Rangel, a decorated veteran of the Korean War, a civil rights crusader and a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Scott and more than a half-dozen other members -- including a Republican, Peter King of New York -- spoke in favor of lowering the punishment for Rangel, arguing he committed lapses in judgment but did not commit fraud, take bribes or break the rules in order to enrich himself.
“It is clear from the precedents of the House that censure is not a fair and just punishment for these violations,” Scott said.
Other House members said the credibility of Congress was at stake in the decision on Rangel’s violations.
House Republican leader John Boehner, who will become speaker when the new Congress convenes in January, called it “a sad day, and a reminder of the work we have ahead of us to repair the shattered bonds of trust between the people and their government.”
Democrat Zoe Lofgren, co-chair of the bipartisan ethics panel that voted 9-1 to recommend censure, said the punishment had been used for a variety of misdeeds in the past.
Rangel was the first House member to be censured since 1983, when Representatives Dan Crane and Gerry Studds were punished for sexual misconduct with teenagers in the House page program.
The last House ethics trial involved Democratic Representative James Traficant, who was expelled from Congress in 2002 after he was convicted in a federal court of bribery and racketeering.
Editing by Vicki Allen and Peter Cooney