Charlie Rangel steps down as chair of powerful Ways and Means Committee

Rep. Charlie Rangel has been embroiled in ethical controversies for the past year. He also chairs the very powerful House Ways and Means Committee. Republicans have been trying to make Rangel a symbol of corruption. (And, those Republicans, having protected Tom DeLay for years, know a lot about corruption.)

Last week, Rangel was admonished by the House Ethics Committee, a body that rarely addresses misconduct by members of either party. Since then, Rangel has faced pressure from his own caucus to step aside as Ways and Means Chair. This morning, Rangel announced he was doing just that:

Caught in a swirl of ethics inquiries, Representative Charles B. Rangel, the dean of the New York Congressional delegation, announced Wednesday that he would temporarily step down from his powerful post as chairman of the tax-policy-writing Ways and Means Committee.

“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,” the congressman said in a brief meeting with reporters.

During the 2006 elections, Democrats made a major issue out of the GOP’s ethical problems. In fact, exit polls from the Associated Press and CNN confirmed that ethics was an important issue for voters that year. Speaker Pelosi famously vowed to “drain the swamp.” Getting Rangel to give up his chairmanship was a big step in the right direction. Democrats don’t need that added distraction during the campaigns of 2010.

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