I’ll take this as an omen for the ObamaCare vote, but what kind of omen is it? Proof that some Dems, a.k.a. Rangel, are willing to commit kamikaze for the greater good?

Or proof that that the caucus is no longer listening to Madam Speaker?

After being admonished by an ethics panel for accepting corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean, Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., will give his chairmanship of the powerful House Ways and Means committee, NBC News has learned.

The top spot may temporarily go to Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., according to leadership sources, or to Rep. Pete Stark of California, the committee’s second-ranking Democrat.

Sources indicated Tuesday to NBC that Rangel had been encouraged to step aside before the House voted on a bill to strip him of his chairmanship.

“We don’t have the votes to save him,” one Democratic member said of Rangel.

Translation: At least 39 Democrats are so terrified of Rangel’s toxicity that they’re willing to risk a fracture with the Congressional Black Caucus to save their own asses in November. In fact, at least one of those 39 was a member of the CBC himself: Artur Davis, who’s running to become governor of red-state Alabama and who became the first black congressman to call for Rangel to step down this afternoon. Once he defected, the anti-Rangel forces had the political cover they needed to get tough with the now-former chairman.

Exit question: If 39 (or more) Dems are too terrified of the electoral consequences to stand by Uncle Charlie, how much more terrified must they be of standing behind O-Care? In which case, where is Pelosi getting the votes?

Update: The plot thickens!

Charlie Rangel emerged from a closed-door meeting in Nancy Pelosi’s office Tuesday night to declare that he’s still the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and hasn’t agreed to give up his gavel – even as some media outlets were reporting that he’d done just that.

But asked whether he’d still be the chairman tomorrow and in the coming days, Rangel said: “I can’t make all those promises at my age.”

And when Pelosi was asked whether Rangel was resigning, she said “no comment.”

When Roll Call asked him if he’ll still be chairman, he said, “You bet your life.” Looks like we’re going to have to do this the hard way. On to the floor vote! Just one question: Who leaked the bogus news that he had quit? Was that the Dems’ way of trying to pressure him into leaving, knowing that if it looked like he had changed his mind and was trying to hold on, irritated caucus members would be more likely to abandon him?

Update: Can you feel Pelosi’s excitement?

After meeting with Rangel, Pelosi initially said, “No comment” when asked if Rangel remains panel chairman.

She added, “I guess he is still chair of Ways and Means…”

Update: This has taken a decided turn towards the awesome.

While the floor vote would not be binding on Mr. Rangel, a growing number of rank-and-file Democrats said they could not envision standing behind the embattled chairman given the likelihood that he would soon face further reprimands by the ethics committee, and Republican challengers would criticize such a vote in the fall elections.

A senior Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee said that he could not vote in support of Mr. Rangel and had informed House leaders of his position. “I think it’s done,” this lawmaker said, speaking on condition of anonymity, who said he was worried about opening the floodgates to further criticism of Mr. Rangel.

Update: He’s going away. But just for a little while, until the heat dies down.

Asked by an NBC reporter if he will remain chairman, Rangel responded with an emphatic “yes.”

“You bet your life on it,” he said.

But t wo Democratic sources tell NBC News that Rangel will take a “leave of absence” — beginning Wednesday — until the investigation is over.