Elected: 1970, 22nd term.
Born: June 11, 1930, New York City
Education: N.Y.U., B.S. 1957, St. John's U., LL.B. 1960
Professional Career: Asst. U.S. atty., S. Dist. of NY, 1959-64; Legal cnsl., NYC Housing & Redevel. Bd., Neighborhood Conservation Bureau, 1963–68; Gen. cnsl., Natl. Advisory Comm. on Selective Svc., 1966.
Ethnicity: Black/African American
Family: married (Alma) , 2 children
Democrat Charles Rangel, first elected in 1970, once wielded considerable power as the gravel-voiced, highly quotable chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. He was forced to step aside in March 2010 and later that year was censured by the House for violations of congressional ethics rules, making Rangel the 23rd House member in history to receive the harshest punishment short of expulsion.
Rangel grew up in Harlem and served in the Army in Korea, where he rescued 40 men from behind the lines in Kunu-ri and was awarded the Bronze Star. He graduated from New York University and St. John’s University law school, served as legal counsel in several government agencies, and was elected to the New York Assembly in 1966. He was part of a group of young black politicians—among them Basil Paterson, Carl McCall, Percy Sutton, and Adam Clayton Powell III—who for many years dominated Harlem and greatly influenced New York politics. In 1970, Rangel challenged Powell, Jr., in the Democratic primary and narrowly won. Remarkably, these two iconic and often controversial figures have been the district’s only representatives for two-thirds of a century. Like most Harlem politicians, Rangel has long argued that government aid and racial preferences are needed to solve Harlem’s problems.
In the House, Rangel rose to chairman of the body’s most powerful committee, Ways and Means. Aside from some early successes on trade and increasing the minimum wage, his first two years as chairman in the 110th Congress (2007-08) were stymied by partisan deadlock as his proposals came under veto threat from the Republican White House. With Democrat Barack Obama as president in 2009, Rangel moved quickly to enact the long-discussed children’s health insurance expansion, and he helped craft $348 billion in tax cuts over five years in the administration’s $787 billion economic stimulus bill. He also joined other senior House Democrats in extended discussions on health reform. Somewhat less expected was his assertive role on climate change legislation. Environmental legislation traditionally has been under the control of the Energy and Commerce Committee, but Rangel held numerous hearings on a proposed carbon tax.
Then, Rangel’s influence was diminished by several New York Times stories that raised questions about four rent-controlled apartments that Rangel maintained in Harlem and his failure to report rental income from a villa in the Dominican Republic. Perhaps most damaging, The Times reported that Maurice Greenberg, one of the biggest shareholders in financially troubled American International Group, gave a public policy school named for Rangel $5 million in 2007, and that Rangel in early 2008, supported a provision in a tax bill that saved AIG several million dollars a year. Rangel steadfastly denied wrongdoing, and in September 2008, he requested a review by the House Ethics Committee.
While the committee opened an investigation into those allegations, another issue cropped up: corporate-sponsored trips Rangel took to Caribbean islands in 2007 and 2008. The panel eventually concluded that Rangel’s staff knew that corporations were helping to finance the trips but failed to reveal that fact when they asked the committee to pre-approve them. Rangel was instructed to reimburse the sponsors for the costs of his travel. Several Democrats were prepared to vote in favor of a Republican resolution seeking to remove Rangel as chairman, but Rangel acted first, saying he wanted to save his fellow Democrats from “having to defend me during their elections” in November. He announced in March 2010 he would take a leave of absence from the chairmanship.
After a nearly two-year investigation, the full committee in July 2010 announced 13 allegations against Rangel. They included his acceptance of the rent-stabilized apartments from a Manhattan developer, failure to pay taxes on rental income from the Dominican villa, and receipt of contributions for his foundations from companies seeking legislative favors. Rangel acknowledged bookkeeping mistakes and said he failed to properly oversee his finances, but he argued that he did nothing to personally benefit or enrich himself. Still, in November, the committee ruled there was sufficient evidence to support the allegations. Before the decision, Rangel indignantly walked out of the proceedings, claiming that he could no longer afford legal representation and that it was unfair to continue. Two days later, the panel voted 9 to 1 in favor of censure, a form of punishment in which a member is shamed by a public recitation of rules violations on the floor of the House.
Along with his friends and allies, Rangel lobbied for a milder form of punishment called a reprimand. But on December 2, the House voted 333 to 79 for censure. Rangel stood in the well of the House, his hands clasped behind him, while Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi read a resolution censuring him for bringing discredit to the House. The last time a censure had occurred was 1983, when Reps. Daniel Crane, R-Ill., and Gerry Studds, D-Mass., were censured for carrying on sexual relationships with congressional pages. After his rebuke, Rangel addressed the chamber briefly, saying, “I know in my heart I am not going to be judged by this Congress. I’ll be judged by my life in its entirety.”
After his censure, Rangel stayed on Ways and Means, and in 2013 took over the ranking member slot on its Trade Subcommittee. But he drew more attention for his frequent jabs at Republicans. Appearing at the first of what he said would be monthly sessions with reporters in January 2013, he said the GOP remained “in denial” over Obama’s reelection. He told MSNBC that month that “some of the Southern areas have cultures that we have to overcome” in passing tighter gun restrictions, a statement that angered GOP colleagues from Alabama, South Carolina, and Texas. Earlier, a Mississippi gun store drew headlines in October 2012 by naming one of its weapons after Rangel.
His fall from grace was particularly striking given his history as a savvy legislator. When he was on his game, Rangel displayed an effective combination of political shrewdness and personal charm, even allowing for his occasional rhetorical extravagance. When a bipartisan majority voted to end racial preferences in broadcasting in 1995, Rangel lashed out in a letter to then-Ways and Means Chairman Bill Archer, R-Texas, saying, “Just like under Hitler, people say they don’t mean to blame any particular individuals and groups, but in the U.S. those groups always turn out to be minorities and immigrants.” Archer refused to speak to Rangel, then the ranking member of the committee, except in public forums. During the 1990s, Rangel defended President Bill Clinton against impeachment with great vigor, but he did not always get along with Clinton. He resented it when his administration negotiated directly with Republicans, leaving him and other congressional Democrats out of the loop.
Republican Bill Thomas of California succeeded Archer as chairman. With a notoriously acerbic tongue, Thomas made few if any moves toward a legislative partnership with Rangel, and the committee was never able to work in a bipartisan way. Rangel also protested when Thomas excluded him from the House-Senate conference committee on the 2003 Medicare prescription-drug bill.
Rangel has opposed some of the international free trade agreements of recent years but has proven open to compromise on others. He supported the 2011 pacts with Panama and South Korea, but not Colombia, citing its lack of worker protections. In 2000, Rangel worked hard for a bill to cut tariffs on apparel and other imports from sub-Saharan Africa, despite opposition from labor unions, textile interests, and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus. During 2004, Rangel did not take a position on the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement, though many Democrats opposed the agreement. There are many Dominican and Central American immigrants in New York. After an earthquake devastated an already destitute Haiti in January 2010, Rangel sponsored a trade bill allowing the country to export more apparel to the United States. The bill passed the House and was signed into law by Obama in May 2010.
One of Rangel’s top priorities was a permanent change in the alternative minimum tax to prevent it from ensnaring middle-class taxpayers. After 19 modifications since 1969, the tax was indexed to inflation as part of the New Year’s Day 2013 budget compromise aimed at averting the so-called “fiscal cliff.” Over the years, he helped write several bills to help high-poverty areas like Harlem, including the federal empowerment zone law, the low-income housing tax credit, and the 1993 increases in the Earned Income Tax Credit.
On foreign policy, Rangel has long advocated eliminating sanctions on trade with Cuba. He favors allowing Haitian and Dominican immigrants into the United States on the same basis as refugees from Cuba. Rangel voted against the Iraq war resolution in 2002 and the following year called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Late in 2002, he called for a revival of the military draft, contending that “a disproportionate number of the poor and members of minority groups make up the enlisted ranks of the military, while the most privileged Americans are underrepresented or absent.” He introduced a bill in 2003 to require some form of national service, military or civilian, from Americans ages 18 to 26, and found 13 cosponsors. When House Republican leaders brought it to a vote in October 2004, he called it a “political maneuver to kill rumors of the president’s intention to reinstate the draft after the November election” and voted against it, saying it had had no committee hearings. It was voted down 402-2.
Rangel has long been a major player in New York’s city and state politics. In the 2008 presidential contest, Rangel was an early and vocal supporter of home-state Sen. Hillary Clinton in her pitched battle with Obama for the Democratic nomination. Despite pressure from many Democrats, including many of his constituents, he stuck with Clinton until she withdrew from the race.
For the most part, Rangel has been easily reelected every two years. In 1994, he faced primary opposition from the son of his predecessor, New York City Councilman Adam Clayton Powell IV. Rangel spent $1.4 million and won 61%-33%. When he was sorely weakened in 2010 by the ethics case, Powell challenged him again in the Democratic primary, along with four other opponents. The election was a referendum on Rangel’s continued fitness for office, but in the end, the results weren’t even close. Rangel won the September primary, which assured his success in the general election, with 51% of the vote to Powell’s 23%.
Rangel got another tough primary challenge in 2012 when he ran in a redrawn 13th District with a larger Hispanic population. In a five-way primary, his closest competitor was New York State Sen. Adriano Espaillat, who hoped to become the first Dominican-American member of Congress. Despite his ethics problems, Rangel received some establishment support. Espaillat argued that Rangel had overstayed his welcome in Congress, but many of Rangel’s surrogates maintained that the incumbent’s seniority and experience were valuable to the district.
Rangel raised nearly $1.5 million, while former Bill Clinton aide Clyde Williams brought in $418,000 and Espaillat raised about $396,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The first returns showed Rangel winning with 45% to Espaillat’s 39%, but as the final votes were tallied, Rangel’s lead narrowed. Espaillat’s campaign filed a lawsuit claiming that too many ballots were left outstanding. In the end, Rangel won by 1,086 votes, 44.5% to 42% for Espaillat and 10% for Williams. He then registered his usual dominant showing in the general election, getting 91%.
Office Contact Information
RHOB- Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-3213
RHOB- Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-3213
163 West 125th Street
New York, NY 10027-4404
163 West 125th Street
New York, NY 10027-4404