The House ethics committee's decision to admonish New York Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel over improper corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean leaves both Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the ethics committee itself facing some difficult questions.
When then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) was admonished by the ethics committee in October 2004, Pelosi and other Democratic leaders went on the offensive against him.
“Mr. DeLay has proven himself to be ethically unfit to lead the party,” Pelosi said at a press conference the following day. “The burden falls upon his fellow House Republicans. Republicans must answer: Do they want an ethically unfit person to be their majority leader or do they want to remove the ethical cloud that hangs over the Capitol?”
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) — now the House majority leader — said DeLay "certainly ought to step aside as leader at this point in time because I think his credibility has been undermined by these findings."
Six years later, the shoe is on the other foot: Republicans have previously called for Rangel to lose his chairmanship over his ethical troubles, and some of them — including Indiana Rep. Mike Pence — renewed that call Thursday night.
How will Pelosi and Hoyer respond?
Neither had anything to say about Rangel's future Thursday night, but the issue is certain to be a central topic for Democratic leadership in the days ahead.
The ethics committee's decision on Rangel's trips resolves just a small part of the ethical controversy in which he's caught up. The ethics committee is still investigating a variety of issues related to Rangel's personal finances, including his use of rent-stabilized apartment, his fundraising on behalf of a research institute bearing his name, and his failure to declare hundreds of thousands of dollars on income and assets on annual financial-disclosure reports.
The ethics committee, meanwhile, appears to have issues of its own.