Some House Democrats are reportedly calling for Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) to give up his powerful chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee in the wake of an admonishment from the House Ethics Committee, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today sidestepped questions about whether she also wants to see Rangel step down from his post.
The ethics committee accused Rangel of accepting corporate money for trips to Caribbean conferences in violation of House rules, but it could not determine whether Rangel knew about the financing. The committee determined that Rangel's staff did know about the financing and said Rangel was responsible for learning the truth.
Rangel is the subject of another larger ethics investigation that is looking into his use of official stationary to fundraise for a college center in his name, as well as his late disclosure of previously unreported assets.
At a press briefing today, Pelosi emphasized to reporters that the ethics committee said Rangel did not violate any rules of the House.
"That's an important statement that they made," she said.
"Obviously, they have other issues to deal with," Pelosi added, referring to the ongoing investigation into Rangel. "I hope that they will have other action soon, but they did not take action against him... We'll just see what happens next, what comes out of the ethics committee next."
Other Democrats, however, think party leadership should make Rangel step down now from his chairmanship.
Democratic Reps. Paul Hodes (N.H.), Gene Taylor (Miss.) and Bobby Bright (Ala.) all said Rangel should step down from his committee post, Politico reports
"Washington must be held to the highest ethical standards," Hodes reportedly said in a statement. "Regrettably, with the finding of ethics violations, Charlie Rangel should step down from his leadership position."
Taylor told Politico that Rangel "should step down, or at least step aside until all this is resolved."
Rangel said last night at a news conference that "common sense dictates that members of Congress should not be held responsible for what could be the wrongdoing or mistakes or errors of staff unless there's reason to believe that member knew or should have known, and there is nothing in the record to indicate the latter."
His office released a statement today saying that Rangel participated in the trips to the Caribbean after the ethics committee approved them.
"The committee found that the Chairman did not have actual knowledge that the trip could be in violation of house rules," the statement said. "Having now learned that the trip reimbursement was made erroneously, Congressman Rangel will of course refund the funds in question."
The National Republican Congressional Committee also told Politico Rangel should step down.
Pelosi "promised the run the 'most ethical congress in history' and instead the voters got an out-of-touch, tone-deaf majority that appears to be belly flopping into the very swamp they promised to drain," NRCC spokesperson Ken Spain said.
Update: While Rangel said he relied on information from the House Ethics Committee in deciding to attend the Carribean trips, the ethics committee says that Rangel's aides tried at least three times to show him his trips had corporate sponsors, the Associated Press reports.
Rangel reportedly denies seeing any of these written communications, which included two staff memos sent to him in 2008 and a letter addressed to him in 2007. The committee's report says investigators could not determine whether or not Rangel actually saw them.