House Democrats head home this week with campaigning on their minds, but with not one but two Swords of Damocles hanging over their heads. When they return in September, the ethics trial of Charlie Rangel will begin, and probably followed immediately by another for Maxine Waters. The Congressional Black Caucus has begun complaining that this looks like more than just a coincidence, and the accusations could do serious damage to the party in a number of ways, as the New York Times explains:
But the tenacity of Mr. Rangel, a 20-term veteran, and Ms. Waters, in her 10th term, in fighting the accusations, puts the interests of these two veteran members of the Congressional Black Caucus at odds with those of their party leaders, particularly the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who famously promised to “drain the swamp” and run “the most ethical Congress in history.” The trials threaten to tarnish Democrats as they try to turn the midterm elections into a choice between keeping them in power or returning to Bush-era policies.
The trials would also stand to remind voters that Democrats, who in recent years extended their reach into the traditionally Republican turf of the rural West and South, are still anchored by an urban, liberal base and led by entrenched veteran lawmakers from big cities.
And the cases could feed racial strains both inside the Democratic caucus, where black members are asking why so many investigations seem to be aimed at them, and out among voters, especially in rural and white districts where many conservative Democrats face tight races.
Bear in mind that both Representatives referred their own cases to the Ethics Committee. That was seen as a way to get the panel to help clear their names after a number of media reports surfaced about their business dealings. The Boss Emeritus led the charge on Waters, exposing her connections to a bank getting a lot of federal help, for instance. Instead of getting their backs scratched by their colleagues, however, the serious charges got substantiated. Rather than agree to a punishment, which turned out to be nothing more than a reprimand, the pair decided to demand a full trial to rebut the charges openly — and to highlight corruption in Nancy Pelosi’s tenure as speaker, apparently.
Who’s fault is this? Jim Clyburn says it’s the Tea Party:
Representative James E. Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina and the House whip, defended the two lawmakers’ rights to a trial, but said it was inevitable that some political opponents would try to turn the ethics questions into a race issue. “Those Tea Party people that showed up at the health care debate, they will not hesitate for one moment to racialize something,” said Mr. Clyburn, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. “They did, and they will.”
The Tea Party? The Tea Party doesn’t run the House. It wasn’t the Tea Party who castigated the Ethics Committee by comparing it to a lynching:
Since Day One, the identity-politics caucus that Rangel helped found has stood by his side and blamed anti-black bias for Rangel’s troubles. Rangel likened public scrutiny of his shady rent-controlled apartment deals and tax troubles to a “lynching.” CBC member Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., called it a “witch hunt.” And an unidentified, tinfoil-hatted black House Democrat told Politico: “It looks as if there is somebody out there who understands what the rules (are) and sends names to the ethics committee with the goal of going after the (CBC).”
The CBC has condemned the enforcement of ethics rules as racist ever since Rangel got caught with his hand in the cookie jar (or 13 cookie jars, as it were.) That’s what the Democratic Party fears — the loss of their most loyal voting demographic via the demagoguing by Rangel, Waters, Clyburn, and the CBC. After all, Democrats run the House, not the GOP, which means that if black voters think Rangel and Waters are enduring a political “lynching,” it’s not coming at the hands of Republicans.
Democrats have been tossing race cards at Republicans and conservatives in an inverse ratio of the success of their economic policies over the last eighteen months. They may just find themselves buried in them by the time the midterms arrive.