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Rep. Charles B. Rangel threw in the towel Wednesday, agreeing to temporarily step down from his post as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee amid escalating investigations into ethical lapses.
After first refusing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi‘s urging that he give up his seat until his mounting ethical problems could be resolved, Rangel caved and announced he would relinquish his hold on the powerful tax-writing committee.
“In order to avoid my colleagues having to defend me during their elections, I have this morning sent a letter (to Pelosi) asking her to grant me a leave of absence until such time as the ethics committee completes its work,” Rangel said.
He refused to take questions from reporters.
Rangel faced increasing pressure from his Democratic colleagues to step down. He becomes the highest-ranking House member to resign a leadership post because of ethical problem since former Republican Congressman Tom DeLay quit his majority leader’s post four years ago.
DeLay, and House administration committee chairman Bob Ney, who quit during the Jack Abramhoff lobbying scandal, became campaign issues used by Democrats to take over control of Congress in the 2006 elections.
When she became Speaker of the House, Pelosi promised to “drain the swamp” and clean out corruption but has come under fire herself for backing ethics-challenged Democratic Reps like the late John Murtha and William Jefferson.
Rangel faces a House ethics committee probe into two corporate paid vacations. He is also under investigation for failing to disclose assets on financial disclosure statements and possible income tax evasion.