Why Rangel Stepped Aside

Plenty of arm-twisting, and the likely prospect of a no-confidence vote

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Charlie Rangel has temporarily stepped down as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. On Tuesday, Democratic leaders pressured him to give up his gavel, but he emerged from the meeting saying he wasn't going anywhere. Increasing the pressure, Representative Artur Davis of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) said Rangel needed "do the right thing and step aside." It's evident that all the arm-twisting has paid off. But why did everyone have it in for Rangel? Here's a look at the political incentives at play:

  • Democrats needed to protect their brand, argues Reid Wilson at Hotline: "Pelosi promised the most open and honest Congress in history, and every time Rangel makes headlines, it undermines that claim. Scandals made the '06 elections go from bad to worse for the GOP. The party now hopes the tables are turned, and Dems will be the ones squirming as they answer for Rangel's gaffes. The longer Pelosi allows him to keep his gavel, the longer her party will take incoming fire."
  • Republicans had a huge opportunity says Jay Bookman at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "House Republicans are planning to force a floor vote on his future that Rangel can't win and his fellow Democrats can't win. Every vote in favor of Rangel would be cited as evidence of a tolerance for corruption, and accurately so. A successful floor vote would also be seen -- again, accurately -- as a coup for Republicans."
  • Rangel wanted to avoid the "embarrassing prospect" of a no-confidence vote from "key Democrats." Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic explains that stepping aside is just "a small step, though: it doesn't solve the optics problem, and it doesn't necessarily inspire confidence in Democrats."
  • Rep. Artur Davis, the Congressional Black Caucus Member, had personal and political reasons for pushing Rangel, writes Steve Kornacki at Salon: "From a political standpoint, there is absolutely nothing courageous about Davis' move. And at a personal level, there's nothing surprising about it, either ... Davis is running for governor of Alabama ... It is absolutely imperative for Davis to separate himself - forcefully and visibly - from the Obama administration and the national Democratic Party ... And it's easier still when you consider the personal history between the two men. In 2000 and 2002, Davis, an ambitious young federal prosecutor, challenged Rep. Earl Hilliard, an older generation CBC member ... The CBC's elders, including Rangel, rallied around Hilliard ... In calling for Rangel's ouster on Tuesday, Davis wasn't turning on a mentor. He was settling a score."
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