House again rejects Rangel’s ouster

WASHINGTON — The House last week declined to unseat the powerful chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, who is the subject of an ethics investigation into his finances.

The Democrat-controlled body voted 246-153 to deflect a Republican resolution aimed at sidelining Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.

It was the third time the Republicans sought a vote on Rangel. While each has failed, they gave Republicans a forum to criticize the Democratic leadership.

The House ethics committee is looking into allegations of rules violations including reports that Rangel rented four rent-stabilized apartments in a New York luxury building and used one as a campaign office.

Rangel’s ownership of a Caribbean villa also has come under scrutiny. He is accused of not disclosing income from renting the villa in the Dominican Republic, as well as not paying interest on its mortgage for 10 years.

Republicans noted the ethics probe has dragged on for a year, with no end in sight. They argued that a pledge by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to run a clean House was hollow as long as Rangel continued to lead the influential committee that writes tax laws.

Democrats argued the ethics committee should be allowed to finish its work before action is taken on Rangel. The vote that was taken referred the Rangel matter to the ethics committee, whose work is already under way.

A day after the vote, the ethics committee announced it was expanding its work to include recent allegations that Rangel, a House member for 38 years, had belatedly reported $500,000 or more in assets and income on official disclosure forms.

Although the vote was largely along party lines, two Democrats from Mississippi voted with the Republicans while 19 lawmakers voted “present,” including nine members of the ethics committee.

Six Republicans voted to wait before taking action on Rangel.

Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., voted for Rangel to step aside. Reps. Shelley Berkley and Dina Titus, both D-Nev., voted to refer the matter to the ethics committee.

TRAVEL PROMOTION OK’D

The House added its approval to a bill that would create a government-private partnership to promote the United States as a tourism destination.

Leaders attached the tourism bill to an unrelated Arizona scholarship measure in order to speed its passage. The vote on the new bill was 358-66, and it was sent to the Senate.

The travel bill would establish a nonprofit corporation to create advertising and promotions luring overseas travelers to the United States. The aim would be to stem a drop in visits to America at a time when tourism in other parts of the world is doing better.

Visitors from certain other countries would be charged a $10 fee to pay for the program. The bill would authorize $10 million in seed money and in future years would match up to $100 million in corporate contributions.

Critics decried the bill being put on a fast-track to passage. They said it would merely create new bureaucracy by echoing tourism promotion programs being run out of the Department of Commerce.

Berkley, Titus and Heller voted for the bill.

HATE CRIMES LAW EXPANDED

The House passed legislation to expand the federal hate crimes law to include acts against individuals based on their gender and sexual orientation.

Sponsors of the bill were successful in attaching the measure to a must-pass defense authorization bill.

The authorization bill passed 281-146, as critics complained that the crime measure had no place in a defense bill. Some lawmakers said they voted against the defense bill in protest.

The hate crimes bill expands federal jurisdiction in cases involving attacks on gays and transgendered individuals, and contains stepped-up punishments. Current law covers crimes motivated by race, color, religion and national origin.

It also provides federal grants to boost state and local investigations of “hate crimes.”

Some supporters have compared hate crimes to terrorist acts, since they are directed at communities of people in addition to the individual being attacked.

Critics have argued the bill undermines “equal justice for all” by allowing different penalties for the same crime depending on the victim. They argued it singles out certain crimes for added attention, when they say all violent crimes should be vigorously prosecuted.

Berkley, Titus and Heller voted for the defense bill that contained the hate crimes provisions.

SANCTUARY CITIES TARGETED

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., proposed withholding federal police grants from communities that have adopted “sanctuary” ordinances for immigrants.

Vitter argued that federal law requires communities to cooperate with federal authorities to enforce immigration laws, but some “have made the affirmative public statement and decision that they are not going to do that.”

“These sanctuary cities — it is beyond debate — are violating current federal law,” Vitter said. “My amendment says if you violate federal law, you will have to live by some consequences.”

More than 30 large cities and dozens of smaller ones have adopted ordinances banning police from asking people about their immigration status.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said the Vitter amendment “is downright dangerous.” Menendez said cities enact sanctuary ordinances as a way to encourage people to report crimes without fear that they could be punished or deported.

“Some of the toughest law enforcement officials in our country, from sheriffs to prosecutors, and a whole host of law enforcement officials in between, understand the cooperation of the communities is essential in fighting crime,” Menendez said.

Vitter’s amendment was killed, 61-38. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., voted for it. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., voted against it.

Contact Stephens Media Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault @stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.

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