Yesterday, the political world waited to see whether Rep. Charlie Rangel would cut a deal to rescue himself from possible expulsion from the House.  Today, we find out why Rangel isn’t terribly worried.  Despite having 13 separate charges of ethics violations, the most the Ethics Committee is prepared to recommend is … a harshly-worded memo:

A House investigator says the panel handling Rep. Charlie Rangel’s ethics case has recommended a reprimand by the full House — but that decision could be months away.

Rep. Gene Green, who’s on the subcommittee that investigated the New York Democrat, says that’s the recommended penalty for the 20-term New York Democrat. Rangel is facing 13 charges of wrongdoing.

Gee, with that Sword of Damocles hanging over his head, small wonder Rangel opted to defend himself.  If the House is only prepared to impose the lightest possible penalty for his transgressions, why not go ahead with the trial?  Rangel needs to give his constituents a sense that he isn’t a crook, if only to stave off a primary challenge from the son of the man Rangel beat decades ago to take the seat, Adam Clayton Powell.

A reprimand carries no consequences.  A censure doesn’t either, except for the perception that it’s a stronger reprimand; Barney Frank got censured in 1990 for using his influence to fix parking tickets for his partner, but he still became chair of the House Financial Services committee.  However, a Representative who gets censured has to stand in the well of the House to have the language read aloud, which at least causes momentary embarrassment.  A fine would carry more sting, but an impeachment or expulsion would send a clear message about following the rules.

Just to remind readers, these were the charges brought against Rangel:

The charges against Rangel include allegations that he sought donations from companies such as New York Life Insurance Co., American International Group Inc., and private foundations related to such businesses as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., to help fund construction of an academic facility carrying his name. He obtained $8 million in donations for the Charles Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York. …

Rangel, 80, is accused of improperly using the official House stationary letterhead to send more than 100 solicitation letters to potential donors that were prepared by his staff during their workday. Enclosed was a 20-page “glossy brochure” that requested a $30 million donation over five years or $6 million a year, according to the 40-page charging document released by the ethics committee.

While Rangel referred himself to the Ethics Committee, expecting to rid himself of the rumors of corruption dogging him on Capitol Hill, he became a lot less cooperative when it became clear that the committee took its job seriously:

Rangel referred his own case to the ethics committee two years ago, saying he expected to be vindicated.

The investigating subcommittee said Rangel “refused repeated requests” for documents, requiring the panel to issue a subpoena.

And yet the maximum penalty recommended by the committee for corruption and obstruction is … a finger wag.

And politicians wonder why people hold Congress in contempt.  We don’t need to ask why Rangel holds it in contempt after this.

Update: Jazz Shaw reminds us that expulsion will be the only way Rangel’s likely to leave Congress.

Update II: Yes, this would mean that Rangel would get the exact same punishment that Joe Wilson got for exclaiming, “You lie!” during Obama’s speech to Congress last fall.