Charlie Rangel Says, “Fire Your Best Shot”

The embattled Harlem rep takes to the House floor for a full-throated self-defense.

By Jamilah King Aug 11, 2010

Charlie Rangel isn’t going down without a fight. Not that anyone expected otherwise, but the embattled New York rep made it very clear when he took the House floor yesterday that he wasn’t going to resign quietly just to keep his very public ethics troubles from hurting Democrats in November.

In an emotional and sometimes rambling 20 minute speech, Rangel stood his ground in the face of mounting criticism from members of his own party.

"Don’t leave me swinging until November. I deserve and demand a right to be heard," Rangel said. "You’re not going to tell me to resign to make you feel comfortable. . . . If I can’t get my dignity back here, then fire your best shot in getting rid of me through expulsion."

(See Time Magazine’s Katy Steinmetz’s rough transcript here.)

The Wall Street Journal called Rangel’s speech an "unexpected piece of political theatre," in part because the move came as House members returned briefly from its August recess to vote on a stimulus bill. Rangel’s charged with 13 ethics violations, the most serious stemming from efforts to secure funding for a center named after him at City College of New York.

The speech was a clear indicator that Rangel’s going to make his ethics battle very public, much to the chagrin of party leaders. Both he and fellow Congressional Black Caucus member Maxine Waters have pushed for public trials against allegations that they broke House ethics rules. Waters was formally charged earlier this week with three counts of ethics violations stemming from her dealings with OneUnited bank at the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008.

At one point this year, all eight lawmakers under formal investigation by the House ethics subcommittee were black Democrats, leading some to level charges that black elected officials face more scrutiny than their white counterparts. But those same black lawmakers have also served their constituencies for far longer. In Rangel’s case, it’s nearly 40 years, a reality that’s led others to wonder if it’s incumbency that’s the problem.

The House ethics subcommittee is scheduled to convene on September 13, the day before Rangel’s primary election. Although the congressman remains popular in his Harlem district, some Democrats have already called for him to resign, and both President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have urged him to remain quiet until his trial.

After yesterday’s speech, fellow prominent CBC member John Lewis said that he was surprised by Rangel’s sudden show of force, adding, "I would have been quiet," according to HuffPo.

If some of Rangel’s fellow lawmakers were surprised, voters across the country were simply amused. Some on Twitter called the episode of a "side show" while others urged him to resign.