WASHINGTON — The House ethics committee on Thursday recommended censure for longtime Rep. Charles Rangel, suggesting that the New York Democrat suffer the embarrassment of standing before his colleagues while receiving an oral rebuke by the speaker for financial and fundraising misconduct.
Censure is the most serious congressional discipline short of expulsion. The House, which could change the recommended discipline by making it more serious or less serious, probably will consider the recommendation after Thanksgiving.
The ethics committee voted 9-1 to recommend censure and that Rangel pay any taxes he owes on income from a vacation villa in the Dominican Republic. The five Democrats and five Republicans deliberated for about three hours behind closed doors.
In a report, the committee said that censure had been recommended in the past in cases of lawmakers enriching themselves. In Rangel's case, the committee said, its decision was based on "the cumulative nature of the violations and not any direct personal financial gain."
Earlier, at a sanctions hearing, the 20-term congressman apologized for his misconduct but said he was not a crooked politician out for personal gain. He was in the House hearing room when the ethics committee chairman, Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, announced the recommendation.
Rangel faced Lofgren after the verdict and said, "I hope you can see your way clear to indicate any action taken by me was not with the intention of bringing any disgrace on the House or enriching myself personally."
The vote against censure probably came from Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., a former member of his state's Supreme Court. He said before deliberations he believed the facts merited a reprimand, which requires a House vote, but there's no oral rebuke.
It's unclear how much Rangel owes in taxes. An ethics committee document indicated he owed $16,775 as of 1990, but Rangel has paid some of his back taxes.
The ethics committee's chief counsel, Blake Chisam, recommended censure. The ethics committee could have opted for lighter punishments, such as a reprimand, a fine or a report deploring the congressman's behavior. Chisam, responding to questions from committee members, said he personally believed that Rangel's conduct did not amount to corruption.
Rangel, 80, ended the sanctions hearing with an emotional plea to salvage his reputation.
Before speaking, Rangel sat for several minutes trying to compose himself. He placed his hands over his eyes then his chin, before he slowly stood and said in a gravelly voice that was barely audible: "I don't know how much longer I have to live."
Facing the committee members, he asked them to "see your way clear to say, 'This member was not corrupt.' "
He continued: "There's no excuse for my behavior and no intent to go beyond what has been given to me as a salary. I apologize for any embarrassment I've caused you individually and collectively as a member of the greatest institution in the world."
In the most dramatic clash of the proceeding, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, questioned the assertion of Rangel — the former chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee — that he wasn't corrupt. "Failure to pay taxes for 17 years. What is that?" McCaul asked, referring to Rangel's shortchanging the Internal Revenue Service on rental income from his villa in the Dominican Republic.
McCaul also noted the committee's finding that Rangel solicited donors for the Charles B. Rangel Center at City College of New York from donors who had business before the Ways and Means Committee.
After an investigation that began in summer 2008, Rangel was convicted Tuesday by a jury of his House peers on 11 of 13 charges of rules violations.