In a hurried announcement this a.m, House Ways and Means Committee chairman Charlie Rangel announced he was temporarily stepping aside to await the disposition of the various legal charges against him. But the problems are only beginning.
It became clear by last night that Rangel would lose a vote of no confidence, and that a number of key Democrats would be among those voting "no."
To avoid the prospect of an embarrassing vote, he decided to take a proactive step. It's a small step, though: it doesn't solve the optics problem, and it doesn't necessarily inspire confidence in Democrats that Pete Stark, 79, an opponent of cap and trade legislation and a bit of a maverick, would be next in line. The leadership does not trust Stark with the gavel.
Then comes Rep. Sander Levin, the number three Democrat on the taxwriting committee, who is a Michigan Democrat with close ties to organized labor and who doesn't have the reputation of being an effective parliamentarian. Labor would love a Levin committee, but the administration, which is pursuing trade agreements that Levin opposes, would not.
Rangel wants Richard Neal, to whom he has already given several key responsibilities, to be his successor. Neal would treat the tax pros and business interests that come before the committee with more respect, in theory. But Neal isn't tops on the list in terms of seniority -- he'd have to bypass civil rights hero John Lewis -- and Nancy Pelosi has given no indication that she intends to upend the seniority system that has been the source of committee chair power for so long. (A good discussion from my National Journal colleague Richard Cohen is here.)
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