Congressman Charlie Rangel blamed gridlock in Washington on an “extreme, conservative new element” in the Republican party that’s “willing to bring down the United States of America” when we chatted with him at the ABNY breakfast on Friday. He also shared his thoughts on bipartisan seating at the State of the Union, redistricting, his censure for ethics violations last year and his re-election chances.
Both of New York’s Senators, Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer, have laid blame for the recent string of impasses in Congress on the House of Representatives. We asked Mr. Rangel if he thought their assessment was fair.
“Your question challenges common sense in terms of it being so transparent as to what is happening in the House. It’s abundantly clear. In order to get the majority, a lot of people … their interest is not in line with the Republican leadership’s position, but in order to maintain their majority they are forced to give in to this extreme, conservative new element that caused them the majority,” said Congressman Rangel.
When Democrats had the upper hand, Mr. Rangel said he and other more liberal blue staters were forced to move to the center.
“When the Democrats had the majority, we liberals who thought we were the heart of the party had to yield to conservative Democrats, because without them we would not have had the majority,” he said. “So, you bet your life, if you find it’s not compatible between the group that made you the leader, then you have–you’re in gridlock. And the House of Representatives has proved over, over and over again that Republican leaderships cannot control the handful of people that gave them the majority.”
Congressman Rangel said he understood why centrist Republicans would cater to the more extreme elements of the party. Hypothetically, he’s not sure he’d do things any differently in their position.
“If I was critical and you were to ask me, ‘What would you do?,’ I’d have a dilemma,” said Mr. Rangel. “Give up my leadership to do the right thing, or yield to these people that that are willing to bring down the United States of America to prove their point.”
For the second year in a row, lawmakers are attempting to address the fractured climate in Washington by having bipartisan seating for the State of the Union address. Congressman Rangel thinks this could be more than just a symbolic gesture.
“It doesn’t hurt, it’s like a husband and wife that have serious, serious problems that are not going to be resolved just by talking with each other,” Congressman Rangel said. “There is no question that there are Democrats and Republicans who are dying to renew their friendships.”
Mr. Rangel threw his arm around our shoulders to illustrate the type of close conversations he shared with one of his former Republican friends–Congressman Peter King.
“I mean Peter King and I would love doing this no matter where we went and that’s all over.”
Congressman King isn’t the only chum Mr. Rangel thinks he lost due to political strife.
“There are a lot of close friendships and, you take a guy like Senator Orrin Hatch, if he was in the House he couldn’t afford to sit next to me,” Congressman Rangel said. “I’m the first guy he looks for when we have the joint sessions, but if indeed they say, ‘You’re supposed to sit next to Charlie,’ his answer would be, ‘Charlie would understand why I would love to sit next to him.’ And that would be it. He has enough of his own right wing problems that he can’t.”
Unprompted, Mr. Rangel hinted that, in his case, his colleagues reluctance to be associated with him had more to do with his censure for multiple ethics violations rather than a simple fear of crossing party lines.
“There’s no question that the way the House of Representatives treated me, which will soon be exposed entirely, we’ve reached a point as to whether anyone Democrat or Republican could afford politically to put themselves in a position like they were defending me as opposed to putting themselves in a position to get re-elected,” said Congressman Rangel.
Last Wednesday, Mr. Rangel visited the City Council to meet “with the speaker’s leadership” and express his concern “with her desires about the new redistricting lines.” He bristled when we asked how he felt the redistricting process is moving forward.
“It is not progressing. We don’t know who’s in charge, we don’t know who’s going to make the decision and it’s a rough decision getting 27 into–after losing two seats. We’ve got to expand. To expand you’ve got to push somebody aside,” Congressman Rangel said.
However the lines are drawn, Congessman Rangel will face a challenge for his seat this year from his former aide, Vince Morgan. We asked whether he’s confident about his chances in the race.
“That would be a stupid thing to say wouldn’t it?” he asked.