GOP exercises discretion on Rangel

With two House Democrats calling for Charlie Rangel’s resignation over ethics violations, the temptation to jump onto the bandwagon for Republicans must be strong.  Thursday, Rangel’s colleagues will hold a trial on the charges referred by the Ethics Committee and determine his fate.  Walt Minnick (D-ID) announced yesterday that he wants Rangel to quit immediately:

Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick thinks embattled New York Congressman Charlie Rangel should resign from the U.S. House, but Idaho’s other member of Congress won’t say.  Rep. Mike Simpson, who represents the eastern portion of the state, won’t comment on Rangel’s alleged misdeeds because it’s possible he could be called on to review the case.  Rangel is accused of, among other things, using his official letterhead to improperly raise funds for a private educational center named after himself at the City College of New York, as well as failure to declare large amounts of personal assets on House disclosure forms.

Minnick told that initially he wanted the voters of Rangel’s New York district to decide his fate in November, but that he has since changed his mind and feels that Rangel should step down.  ”I think it was appropriate for Rep. Rangel to step down from his post as a committee chair pending the investigation, but I always prefer to let voters decide whether or not someone should keep his or her seat,” said Minnick.  ”However, now that the investigation is complete, and provided the facts are as alleged, I think it’s clear that he should resign from Congress.”

On Friday, Betty Sutton (D-OH) became the first Democrat to demand Rangel’s resignation:

In a statement to The Hill, Sutton stated, “It is regrettable, but Charlie Rangel needs to resign from his seat in Congress. This isn’t about being a Democrat or Republican, this is about preserving the public trust. Our nation is facing extraordinary challenges and we must be focused on building a sustainable economy that will allow our workers and businesses to flourish.”

Sutton has built a reputation as a crusader for congressional ethics. In 2008, she led the fight to pass legislation creating the Office of Congressional Ethics, which now serves as an independent ethics body within the House of Representatives.

In March, Sutton donated to charity the $7,000 given to her campaign by Rangel. Sutton, a GOP target this fall, was elected in 2006. President Barack Obama attracted 57 percent of the vote in her district in 2008.

Will the GOP add their voices to these calls?  The Hill says no:

Republicans are employing a don’t-get-in-the-way-of-your-enemies-when-they-are-destroying-themselves strategy, the same game plan Democrats employed as Republicans grappled with ethics scandals in 2006.

According to several leadership sources, top-ranking Republicans hope that the former Ways and Means Committee chairman fights charges of ethical wrongdoing.

“We want him fighting this tooth and nail. The more defiant he is, the better it is for us,” a GOP leadership aide told The Hill on Monday.

Another Republican leadership aide noted that Republicans can only sit back and watch as the “spectacle” unfolds on Thursday, when the ethics committee will detail its charges against Rangel.

In other words, the “spectacle” works for them in two ways.  First, it will force the media to cover the trial and start talking again about Rangel’s corruption — and his long reach in the Democratic caucus.  Second, it leaves the pressure on Democrats to clean their own house, without being able to complain about Republicans politicizing the process.

The decision will come soon enough for Republicans to use it as a theme for the midterm elections.  If they expel Rangel, they will link him to House leadership in a way that Democrats did with Mark Foley in 2006 — only this time, it will really be true, since Rangel has been a member of leadership for many years.  If the House ends up doing anything less than expulsion, Republicans will use that to show that Democrats lack the integrity to lead and will beat that drum loudly for the next three months.

Either way, Republicans have an issue they can use — as long as Rangel doesn’t quit.  Even if he does, the attack will still be effective, but may not get nearly as much media attention.  This strategic silence makes sense, as long as it isn’t permanent.

Update: Steny Hoyer tells Rangel, You’re on your own, pal:

The House’s second-ranking Democrat on Tuesday said Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) will decide on his own whether to resign his seat or go forward with Thursday’s ethics inquiry.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters he did not know what Rangel’s decision would be. The Ethics Committee on Thursday is scheduled to convene publicly to spell out its charges against the New York Democrat. …

Despite those calls, Hoyer indicated House leaders aren’t inclined to force Rangel’s hand — at least not overtly.

“Mr. Rangel has to do what Mr. Rangel believes is appropriate and proper,” Hoyer said.

Translation: Lovely to get to know you.  Too bad you had to leave so soon.