This morning, Congressman Charlie Rangel sat for his first extended interview since he was censured on the House floor on Thursday afternoon.
“It was an embarrassing and painful experience,” Rangel told Candy Crowley on CNN’s State of the Union. But Rangel said that no matter how much pain he was feeling, it didn’t compare to the pain and uncertainty of those serving the military overseas, or suffering through the recession with little hope for finding a job.
“The bottom line is that it’s rough,” he said. “But the whole idea of corruption has been just laid to rest, and the question of self-enrichment. And I was thinking about all of those things while I was in the well, and saying, ‘At long last, it’s not just Charlie Rangel saying it, it’s the head prosecutor.’”
Rangel elaborated on his claim–made on the House floor after his censure–that the vote was primarily political.
“It’s very simple to understand,” Rangel said. “My predecessor, Adam Clayton Powell, was expelled from the Congress before he had an opportunity to be sworn in. And members knew it was not only wrong, but it was unconstitutional. So I was amazed when I came to Washington 40 years ago how many people said that they loved Adam Powell, they worked with Adam Powell, how effective he was as a chairman.
“And I would ask the question, ‘How could you possibly vote to expel the man, knowing it was unconstitutional?’ And they would smile and say, ‘Hey, if you have to explain back home why you’re supporting someone like Adam Clayton Powell during this period of time, you’ve got a problem.’”
(The Supreme Court eventually ruled in Powell v. McCormack that Congress had acted unconstitutionally.)
Rangel said it would have been especially difficult for his colleagues to support him on the heels of such an overwhelmingly anti-incumbent election, and with the reputation of Congress at an all-time low. “But I can tell you that individually, whether it’s Republicans or Democrats, they knew that what I had done did not reach the level of a censure. So I accepted it.”
Asked whether he thought race played a role, Rangel said that was “the last thing in the world I would want to discuss,” recounting his personal story as a high school dropout who rose to chair the Ways and Means Committee. “I’d be hard-put to start complaining now,” he said.
And Rangel did his best to explain–once again–why they were oversights that didn’t reflect on his character. “I relied too heavily on my chief of staff and accountant. There’s no excuse for that,” he said.
“All I know is that history is going to record that Rangel was a hardworking patriot, loved his Congress, loved his country, forever grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had,” he said.