ABC News’ Rick Klein Reports: House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel is firing back at his critics, lashing out at The New York Times in the wake of the latest in a series of politically damaging revelations.
“The New York Times is attacking Chairman Rangel for opposing a Senate bill that the New York Times also opposed, in an unsourced example of a reporter looking for a scandal,” said Matthew Beck, communications director for the House Ways and Means Committee.
The Times last week reported that Rangel, D-N.Y., fought to preserve a tax loophole for an oil-drilling company at the same time the company’s CEO was pledging $1 million to a new City College of New York school that will be named after Rangel.
Rangel has vehemently denied any connection between the actions. The Times reported that Rangel met with the company’s CEO and chief lobbyist on the same day the tax measure was altered in a way that helped the company.
But Beck said the provision was dropped by staff members on the Senate Finance Committee, without any involvement by Rangel.
“The heart of the story -- that Mr. Rangel actively intervened on his committee to preserve a tax break for Nabors Industries -- is demonstrably false,” he said.
The pushback comes at a delicate time for the 78-year-old Harlem Democrat, who is facing an Ethics Committee inquiry and mounting political pressure from inside and outside the Democratic caucus over a growing list of alleged improprieties.
In addition to questions raised about fundraising efforts for his college center, Rangel is under scrutiny for failing to pay taxes on income from a beach house he owns in the Dominican Republic, in addition to questions about how he was able to procure four rent-controlled apartments in New York City.
With Rangel’s committee on track to review key pieces of the Obama economic and tax agenda, Democrats are anxious to see questions about Rangel’s conduct -- particularly involving his own taxes -- put to rest before the new Congress convenes.
Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., issued an unusual public statement saying she had “been assured the [ethics committee] report will be completed” by the time the current congressional term ends Jan. 3.
Such investigations are shrouded in secrecy, and committee members are forbidden to discuss the timeline of their inquiries -- even with the House speaker. Pelosi’s office said the speaker was basing her statement on her own staff’s assessment of the matter, not inside information.
In a letter to Pelosi sent Tuesday, Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, demanded a more complete explanation from the speaker.
“Coming so close on the heels of new and serious allegations against Rep. Rangel, creating a public expectation that the Ethics Committee would soon conclude its inquiry could be viewed as an attempt to fend off growing -- and legitimate -- demands that Rep. Rangel step aside as Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means while the Ethics Committee conducts its probe into his conduct,” wrote Carter, who was elected as GOP conference secretary last month.
In the meantime, Republicans are stepping up their efforts to highlight Rangel’s problems. A House GOP leadership aide said leaders are contemplating renewed efforts to censure Rangel or strip him of his chairmanship while the investigation is ongoing.
They are also considering using an obscure parliamentary maneuver that would force a floor vote on whether Rangel should retain his chairmanship in the next Congress -- a vote House Democrats would rather avoid.
The matter threatens to be a distraction to the incoming Obama administration.
“If [Pelosi] does nothing, Rangel’s problems are going to be Obama’s problems,” the GOP aide said.
Pelosi last month quietly backed a leadership challenge to House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., in part because he was perceived as an obstacle to the Obama agenda. (Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., succeeded in ousting Dingell as chairman.)
But moving against Rangel carries substantial risks for Pelosi. Rangel appears to continue to enjoy the support of Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee. He also is strongly backed by the Congressional Black Caucus, which has tangled with Pelosi in the past and would likely raise major objections to pushing out a veteran African-American leader like Rangel.
Asked Monday whether she thinks Rangel should be removed from his post, Pelosi told reporters in New York: “I don't foresee that.”