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Rangel Jockeys To Remain Chairman

Rep. Charles B. Rangel met Monday evening with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders to counter increasing demands that he step down as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The embattled Rangel walked into the pivotal 5 p.m. meeting with “no intention” of giving up his chairmanship, according to people close to him — who quickly conceded that Pelosi and other leaders might ask him to give up the post for the sake of the party.

“He’s not going into there with the sense that he’s going to go,” said a person close to the New York Democrat. “But who knows what’s going to happen once he gets in there.”

Rangel declined to take questions from reporters as he walked out of the meeting, saying that he wouldn’t even tell them his name and that they were wasting their time waiting for more.

Pelosi, of California, insisted that she and the chairman did not discuss the possibility of his resignation during their meeting. “We’re talking about 500 points going down on the stock market today,” she said. Asked specifically whether she had asked Rangel to step aside, the speaker shook her head no.

Rangel participated in a second closed-door meeting — this one with Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee — after a series of House votes Monday night.

Emerging from that meeting, he again declined to discuss his situation.

"At this point in time, I am unable to say anything except Charles Rangel, staff sergeant, RA57156282, Second Infantry Division," Rangel joked. "Do to me what you want, I'm not talking."

Two years after Democrats used Republican scandals to take control of the House and the Senate, GOP operatives have seized on Rangel’s financial lapses as a major weapon in their effort to limit further losses in November.

Rangel has given them plenty to work with. Weeks after The New York Times revealed that the 78-year-old chairman had paid below-market rents on four New York apartments came word that Rangel had failed to report income or pay federal taxes on a beachfront property.

On Monday, Roll Call reported that Rangel may have misstated the value of a condo he sold in Florida, a revelation that spurred Rangel to appoint a forensic accountant to review his financial records, which even he has described as a “mess.”

Increasingly, however, the pressure for Rangel to step aside is coming from allies. 

On Monday, the Times, which has often endorsed Rangel, called on him to step down temporarily as chairman. And some House Democrats believe that putting Rangel on the shelf would allow them to attack ethics-hampered Republicans, including Reps. Jerry Lewis of California and Don Young of Alaska.

Republicans have tried to portray Rangel as sort of a Democratic version of Tom DeLay, who was forced to step down as House majority leader after an indictment in 2005.

“He’s an open book. He’s done nothing criminal,” a Rangel adviser said of his boss. “We’re not going to let them turn us into Tom DeLay.”

Earlier this month, Rangel asked the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to review his failure to pay taxes on $75,000 in rental income on a vacation home in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

It was the third ethics review he has requested since July. The first regarded the apartment flap. The second involved a charge that Rangel had used congressional stationery to solicit meetings with wealthy New Yorkers in an effort to raise money for an educational center that bears his name.

In recent days, Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio and other Republican leaders have called on Rangel to relinquish his committee post while the investigations are pending.

And the National Republican Congressional Committee has been blasting news releases to media outlets in 83 congressional district calling on Democratic candidates to give back money they received from Rangel and his leadership political action committee.

If the Republicans succeed in making Rangel toxic, they could also turn off a major source of campaign cash because the Ways and Means chairman has become one of the party’s best fundraisers.

As of June 30, Rangel had given Democrats $860,000 from his PAC alone. He raised an additional $4.6 million in his personal reelection account, from which he also contributed hundreds of thousands to colleagues and candidates at every level of government.

Only one candidate his returned Rangel’s money. Michael Skelly, a Democrat challenging Republican Rep. John Culberson in the Houston area, returned a $2,000 contribution on July 23.

The Democratic National Committee returned $100,000 from Rangel’s PAC as part of its new policy of rejecting PAC cash.

The GOP’s anti-Rangel push is not without its peril for Boehner, the man leading the charge.

For two years, the Ohio Republican has walked a political tightrope between partisan moderates and militants within his own party. His recent actions have tilted toward the latter group.

Boehner offered a measure over the summer to censure Rangel for using a rent-stabilized apartment in his Harlem high-rise for campaign activity. More than a quarter of his Republican colleagues voted to block it.

Last week, he warned rank-and-file Republicans that they could lose their committee posts if they vote against him on a procedural measure again. Later, he assailed Rangel on the floor, asking Pelosi to remove Rangel, whom he described as his “friend,” from the spot on Ways and Means.

The impromptu exchange raised eyebrows on both sides of the aisle. Democrats cracked that Boehner has become “desperate” to save his job after the election, while some Republican allies were surprised by his harsh partisan tone.

They also questioned the wisdom of making ethical attacks on a prominent House member after the legal fights Republicans have endured recently.

In the near term, lawmakers from both parties suggested the bad blood the Republican leaders stirred up by targeting Rangel would make it harder for the two sides to forge a compromise on any year-end legislation, such as a comprehensive energy bill or a stopgap spending measure to fund the government through the end of this year.

Before Monday, Pelosi and other leaders rallied around the battered chairman.

Last week, 15 Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee threw their support behind Rangel in interviews or statements to Politico. And Friday, Pelosi chastised Boehner for calling on him to step aside.

“Your unfair and intemperate attack on one of the most distinguished and beloved members of the House,” Pelosi wrote the Republican leader, “is curious in light of the number of Republican members whose ethical behavior has been under serious question and on which you have remained silent.”

Chris Frates and John Bresnahan contributed to this story.

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