“I don’t know how much longer I have to live,” said Mr. Rangel, 80, his eyes watery and his voice quivering. But, he said, whatever time he has, he will spend it trying “to help people and thank God for what he’s given to me.”
Why the look back in sorrow? Because he's going to be censured for a variety of sins.
A censure would mark a momentous downfall for Mr. Rangel, a Democrat who for 40 years has represented Harlem, where he was born. As a decorated Korean War veteran and civil rights advocate, he became a combative and irrepressible voice for liberal causes and, in 2007, snared one of the most powerful positions in Congress, the chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee.
Censure requires approval by the full House, which plans to take up the matter after its Thanksgiving recess.
If, as expected, censure is approved, Mr. Rangel will be the first member to receive such punishment since 1983, when two congressmen were rebuked for sexual misconduct with House pages. Mr. Rangel would be required to stand in the well of the House while the speaker reads a resolution rebuking him.
I'd prefer Rangel to stand on the steps of the Capitol and announce his resignation, but that's likely too much to ask. Rangel has a lot in common with another decorated veteran who disgraced himself in Congress, John Murtha. Murtha died earlier this year and never ended up facing an ethics panel, but there were more than a few scandals that had surfaced with his name on them. If he hadn't died on the operating table, there was a pretty good chance he'd have faced the same fate as Charlie Rangel.
The problem is incumbency. You end up with people like Rangel, who was in position for 40 years. John Dingell has been in Congress for well over 50 years. No one should hold office that long, Republican or Democrat. The longer you spend in the artificial environment of the Capitol, where lobbyists ply you and sycophants tell you how great you are, the more likely you are to lose sight of why you were sent there in the first place. Public service and self-service are often hard to separate, especially for someone who has spent most of their life in Congress.
If Charlie Rangel is sincere about trying to help people, he ought to go back to Harlem and dig in. Surely there is someone else who can do his job.