WASHINGTON — In a defiant and highly unusual speech, Democratic Representative Charles Rangel defended himself yesterday against ethics charges by lashing out at the committee holding his trial, poking fun at President Obama, ridiculing conservative House Democrats, and refusing to resign quietly.
“I am not going away,’’ Rangel, 80, said in a speech from the well of the House.
A few lawmakers, including some members of the Congressional Black Caucus and fellow liberals, applauded while most of his colleagues sat stone-faced. Midway through the 37-minute speech — which Rangel gave under the rare “point of personal privilege’’ rule to speak on any topic — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, went to the back of the chamber to huddle with aides.
Rangel demanded the “right to be heard.’’ His main point of contention was the pending trial on 13 counts that he broke congressional rules regarding his personal finances and fund-raising efforts for a college center named in his honor. The ethics committee has not yet given a formal schedule for the trial, which is likely to begin when the House returns in mid-September. Rangel demanded the committee hold the trial sooner.
“Don’t leave me swinging in the wind till November,’’ Rangel said. He noted that his Democratic primary is Sept. 14, just as the House returns from its break.
He publicly accused ethics committee Republicans of backing out of settlement talks and ridiculed the GOP in general for having no political ideas to run on in the November midterms other than trying to associate endangered Democrats with his ethics problems. But Rangel reserved his most acrid comments for the roughly 10 Democrats from conservative leaning districts who have called for his resignation and Obama, who told CBS News in an interview that Rangel needed to end his 40-year career “with dignity.’’
While most observers took that as a sign Obama thought the embattled lawmaker might resign, Rangel said he interpreted much differently. “He didn’t put a time limit on it,’’ Rangel said.
He admitted to sloppy mistakes in filing his personal financial disclosure forms — which formed the basis of several counts against him, for not revealing more than $600,000 in income and assets — and acknowledged he should not have used congressional stationery for raising money for the college wing at New York University. But he said these were unintentional errors.
— Washington Post
Gibbs contended that some progressives critical of President Obama wouldn’t be satisfied until the Pentagon was eliminated and Canadian-style health care ushered in. Some of them wouldn’t even be happy if antiwar congressman Dennis Kucinich were president, Gibbs said in comments that appeared yesterday in “The Hill’’ newspaper.
Standing in for Gibbs at the daily White House press briefing, Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton downplayed the comments, saying Gibbs simply “answered honestly’’ in a conversation with a reporter.
“Is there ever some frustration from anyone who works in this building about the way it’s being covered? Sure,’’ Burton said when asked if Gibbs’s comments reflected Obama’s views.
Burton said Gibbs had a sore throat and his absence from the briefing was unrelated to angry blow-back from left-wing bloggers and others. One Democratic congressman, Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, told the Huffington Post that Gibbs should resign.
“I don’t think there’s any danger of that,’’ said Burton.
Among Gibbs’s comments: “I hear these people saying [Obama’s] like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug-tested. I mean, it’s crazy.’’
— Associated Press