ByÂ Dana Milbank
The Democrats, at long last, had strung together a good day. They forced House Republicans to return, grumbling, from summer vacation for votes that allowed Democrats to show support for teachers, cops and strong borders.
Then they got Rangeled.
“For what purpose does the gentleman from New York seek recognition?” the speaker asked of Rep. Charlie Rangel, the fallen Ways and Means chairman, when he rose from his seat early Tuesday afternoon.
The gentleman from New York sought recognition to deliver, without warning, one of the most extraordinary pieces of political oratory in recent memory. Facing a trial before the House Ethics Committee, he gave a rambling, 30-minute speech attacking the committee, the Republicans, his fellow Democrats and even his own lawyers. It was less of a floor speech than a primal scream directed at those who say he should resign, or cut a deal with the committee, to spare his party a political debacle in November.
“Hey, if I was you, I may want me to go away too,” he told his colleagues, referring to his ethics problems as a “so-called” scandal. “I am not going away. I am here.”
This defiance was met by a smattering of applause in the full chamber.
“You’re not going to tell me to resign to make you feel comfortable,” Rangel informed his Democratic colleagues. “And for those who disagree, I’m sorry, but that’s one thing you can’t take away from me.”
Midway through the diatribe, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi left her seat and walked to the back of the chamber. When Rangel finally finished, a few dozen Democrats — mostly members of the black caucus, New Yorkers and liberals — stood to applaud. Most Democrats — including Rep. David Obey (Minn.), the man who was leading the teachers-and-cops bill on the floor — sat in silence. Democratic members, approached by reporters for comment as they left the chamber, looked stricken.
“Not now,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter.
“I didn’t really hear it,” pleaded Rep. Howard Berman.
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