The ethics subcommittee investigating Rep. Charlie Rangel has recommended a reprimand for the Harlem Democrat, who was charged Thursday on 13 counts of ethics violations. A different subcommittee will try Rangel in September and recommend a punishment, which will be voted on by the entire House.
A reprimand, essentially a public shaming that would not affect Rangel's ability to run for re-election or sit on committees, is the least serious of three punishment options for House members. In the most serious cases, members can be expelled from Congress. They can also be censured, which is similar to a reprimand but includes a public chastisement from the Speaker of the House. MSNBC reports that in the history of Congress, only eight members have been reprimanded. The most recent reprimand was given to Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997 for various tax law violations.
As minimal as that may sound, "it's serious business," says Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institute. "It's everything to a politician! It's hard for me to imagine a circumstance under which he would feel worse."
Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist with Public Citizen, expects that the House may choose a censure over a reprimand. "It's really a public scolding, but on one level, it's, 'OK, you violated the rules, don't do it again,'" Holman says. "The other level is 'Oh, you really screwed up. Do something like that again and who knows what will happen.'"