Two of the longest serving, highest ranking Democrats in the House of Representatives are facing ethics charges that threaten not only to end their careers, but deal serious blows to any hope their party has of holding onto its majority in the House.
Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY), 80, Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, faces 13 alleged ethics violations, announced last week by the House Ethics Committee. They stem from charges that Rangel failed to report income from rental properties, leveraged his chairmanship to solicit campaign contributions and improperly used his office stationery to extract donations for a public service institute named in his honor.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), revolves around allegations that she improperly intervened with federal regulators to help a bank that her husband owned stock in and on whose board he once served. Waters, 71, has been under investigation for a possible conflict of interest involving a bank that was seeking federal aid. Her husband owned at least $250,000 in stock in the bank. Waters is a high ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee.
As it stands, both Waters and Rangel are pushing for what promise to be highly-publicized public trials on their ethics charges. Full-fledged ethics trials bring the prospect of a spectacle focusing on Congressional corruption this fall, just as Democrats are fighting to hold on to their majority in the House and Senate.
With President Obama - the de facto Democratic leader - suffering from record-low approval ratings, national debt skyrocketing to levels never seen before and a recession many hoped would be ended by now, the last thing Democrats need this November are simultaneous ethics trials against two members of their caucus.
Not only are the ethics charges a big problem for the Democratic majority, they also appear to be firing up a race debate. The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has levied allegations that the charges against Rangel and Waters (both black) are motivated by their race.
Ten House Democrats have either fully or conditionally called for Rangel's resignation, but the veteran lawmaker huddled with the CBC and members of the New York House delegation Friday and shows no signs of stepping down, even after the president said in an interview aired Sunday that the veteran Harlem lawmaker should end his career "with dignity."
Republicans, led by Ohio's 8th District Representative and House Minority Leader John Boehner, are ramping up rhetoric against the Democrats and their ability (or lack thereof) to lead in a legal and ethical manner. Boehner, the long-tenured Republican leader from West Chester, stands to become Speaker of the House if Republicans can uproot Democrats this fall.
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