GWEN IFILL: In a dramatic and unscripted display of defiance, New York Democrat Charles Rangel took to the floor of the House of Representatives today.
As he awaits a House trial on a series of alleged ethics violations, the 80-year-old former Ways and Means Committee chairman vowed to stay and fight.
REP. CHARLES RANGEL,(D-N.Y.): I have been losing a lot of sleep over these allegations, and my family and community.
And some of these rules that they have is that I'm restricted by confidentiality. But, for years, I have been saying no comment, no comment, no comment to a lot of serious allegations because I could not comment, and I would refer them to the Ethics Committee.
Hey, I'm 80 years old. All my life has been from the beginning publi service. That's all I have ever done. Been in the Army, been a state
legislator, been a federal prosecutor, 40 years here. And all I'm saying is that, if it is the judgment of people here, for whatever reason, that I resign, then, heck, have the ethics committee expedite this. Don't leave me swinging in the wind until November.
If this is an emergency, and I think it is, to help our local and state governments out, what about me? I don't want anyone to feel embarrassed, awkward. Hey, if I was you, I may want me to go away, too. I am not going away. I am here.
And I do recognize that...
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: But for God's sake, just don't believe that I don't have feelings, that I don't have pride, that -- that -- I do want the dignity that the president has said.
And the dignity is that, even if you see fit to cause me not to be able to come back, because you're not going to do it in my district, but if there's some recommendation that I be expelled, for me -- for me, that would be dignity.
GWEN IFILL: Joining us to discuss what Mr. Rangel's remarks might mean for the congressman and his party is NewsHour political editor David Chalian.
How unusual was that, David, for him to go to the well of the House like that?
DAVID CHALIAN: Really rare, Gwen. We never see that. We have seen, after some folks in the Congress lose, they go and make a
real partisan speech in the well, but not when somebody is under a cloud of ethics allegations, the way Charlie Rangel is right now. He went to the well against the advice of his lawyers. He went to the well after Democratic leadership in the House tried to convince him not to go to the well. They didn't want to hear this speech today.
But he felt he not told his side of the story yet. And he clearly had
some grievances about the process. And so he wanted to air those grievances.
GWEN IFILL: Both he and Maxine Waters, a congresswoman from California who is also under an ethical cloud, have turned the argument against the Ethics Committee and the whole process. Do they have a point?
DAVID CHALIAN: Well, here's the point that they do have that I think gained some traction for them and their argument.
It's a timing point. Charlie Rangel is talking about a process now that has been under way for two years. He talked about his legal bills mounting for these two years, and he still doesn't know the date of this trial for the fall.
I under -- it's easy to understand both of their worries in the heat of an election season. If they really, truly believe in their innocence, as they do, they want a trial as quickly as possible to air the evidence and get an acquittal, if that's what they think they're going to get from the Ethics Committee.
GWEN IFILL: We know that Charlie Rangel has been in Congress for 40 years now. And we know he comes from a storied congressional district in New York. Is he in any trouble this fall in these midterm elections?
DAVID CHALIAN: And, here, the timing factor is even more important for
Charlie Rangel than it is for Maxine Waters. Her primary season is already gone. He has got a September 14 primary. He has a five-way primary.
He doesn't look that he's in that much danger, Gwen, but he's not pulling over 50 percent. That's a danger sign for any incumbent. Now, obviously, in a five-way race, he doesn't need 50 percent to win.
It is also worth noting that one of his opponents in that primary race is Adam Clayton Powell IV. That is the son of the very same Adam Clayton Powell that Charlie Rangel defeated 40 years ago in a Democratic primary to take that seat.
GWEN IFILL: Why isn't it a slam-dunk for Charlie Rangel, who is well-known in his district, well-known in Washington, even under this cloud, why isn't it a slam-dunk to get reelected?
DAVID CHALIAN: I think that he is overwhelmingly favored for reelection.
GWEN IFILL: Yes.
DAVID CHALIAN: It's not a slam-dunk because this has now been a two-year story, where people in the district, even his hard-core supporters in the district in Manhattan, are beginning to question, what is the there there that this has been going for two years?
That's why he's so eager to get a trial. I also think the president's comments about dignity, that he wants to retire for dignity, caused Charlie Rangel to go to the floor. And don't underestimate that. Those comments, I think, Charlie Rangel took as quite a personal affront from the president. And I think he wanted to speak to that.
GWEN IFILL: He referenced it more than once during his speech. And do we have a date for that trial yet?
DAVID CHALIAN: We still do not have a date for that trial.
And he said today -- they were called back into that special session --he was hoping to get a date from the Ethics Committee. They were not there to do that kind of work today.
GWEN IFILL: OK. A remarkable day. Thank you, David Chalian.
DAVID CHALIAN: Thank you.