- Longtime Democratic congressman from New York
- Admirer of Fidel Castro and Communist Cuba
- Commonly levies baseless charges of racism for political advantage
- Helped to author the largest tax increase in American history
- Was involved in income-tax scandal and real-estate corruption
Born in Harlem, New York in June 1930, Charles Rangel is a Democratic congressman who represents the 15th Congressional District of New York, located in upper Manhattan. He has served in the House of Representatives since 1971.
Rangel, who is black, has a long history of levying charges of racism against his political and ideological adversaries. For example, when the Republican-led Congress pushed for tax relief in 1994, Rangel denounced the plan as a form of modern-day racism. "It's not 'spic' or 'nigger' anymore," he raged. "[Instead,] they say, 'Let's cut taxes.'"
Similarly, when Republicans sought to reform a bloated and abused welfare system through budget cuts, Rangel remonstrated that the planned reforms were beneath even the standards of Nazi Germany: "Hitler wasn't even talking about doing these things," he insisted.
Racism is likewise Rangel's chosen explanation for the disproportionate number of blacks arrested for breaking drug laws, which he has condemned as "racist."
In 2001, while campaigning for Democratic mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer in New York, Rangel suggested that racism would be to blame were the Hispanic Ferrer to lose to his white rivals in the party primary. Speaking before a Democratic audience, Rangel asked, "How do you feel our hurt when you go to apply for a job and you see three whites there and you know before the interview that you're not going to get it?"
When President George W. Bush announced a plan to partially privatize Social Security, Rangel charged that Republicans were seeking to shortchange "African American workers" by providing them with reduced benefits "based on their race."
In February 2005, Rangel proclaimed that it was inappropriate for Americans to characterize groups like Hezbollah as "Islamic terrorists." "To call it Islamic terror is discriminating, it's bigoted, it is not the right thing to say," Rangel declared.
Following the much-criticized federal response to Hurricane Katrina, a powerful storm that ravaged the Gulf coast in August 2005, Rangel attributed the delayed response to anti-black sentiment within the federal government: “If you're black in this country, and you're poor in this country, it's not an inconvenience -- it's a death sentence."
In the course of addressing the Congressional Black Caucus in September of 2005, Rangel, still exploiting the aftermath of Katrina, likened President Bush to Bull Connor, the Alabama police commissioner notorious for his racist opposition to the early civil-rights movement.
In May 2009, Rangel joined activist Al Sharpton in calling for a federal probe into a recent deadly shooting -- by a white New York City plainclothes police officer -- of a black plainclothes officer who was brandishing a weapon and chasing a criminal suspect on a Harlem street. Said Rangel: "If you become an officer and you have a pistol and you are of color, in or out of uniform, your chances of getting shot down by a police officer are a lot heavier than if you were not of color." The congressman again alluded to the shooting when a reporter asked him what President Barack Obama, who came to New York for a personal matter shortly after the incident, ought to do during his stay in the city. Rangel replied, “Make certain he doesn’t run around in East Harlem without identification.”
Rangel is an avowed admirer of the former Cuban President Fidel Castro. In April 1993, the congressman introduced legislation to repeal the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, which ended U.S. assistance to the Castro government, and to lift the American embargo against Cuba. When Castro toured Harlem in October of 1995, Rangel greeted him with a bear hug at an event in a local church, where the congressman joined in a prolonged standing ovation for the visiting dictator.
Rangel is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Progressive Caucus in the House of Representatives. For an overview of key votes he has cast during his legislative career, click here.
In January 2007 Rangel became chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which writes the U.S. tax code. In October 2007, Rangel and this Committee unveiled a proposal for the single largest tax increase -- on all income strata -- in American history. Dubbed the “mother of all tax bills” by Rangel, the legislation not only contained $1.3 billion in new taxes, but it also called for the repeal of the major tax cuts that Congress had enacted in 2001 and 2003; all told, the bill would have resulted in a tax hike of $3.5 trillion.
In September 2008 the House Ethics Committee launched an investigation into Rangel's failure to report (and pay taxes on) $75,000 in rental income which he had earned from his beach property in the Dominican Republic. Moreover, Rangel owed back taxes for at least three years, and he was illegally renting four rent-subsidized apartments in New York City -- at less than half of their market value -- while claiming his Washington, DC home as his primary residence for tax purposes. Though Rangel's income was too high to legally qualify him for any rent-subsidized units, he nonetheless rented three adjacent 16th-floor apartments which combined to make up his 2,500-square-foot home in New York, as well as a fourth unit on the 10th floor of the same building, which served as his campaign office. State and city laws stipulated, however, that rent-subsized apartments could only be used as primary residences.
In December 2008, reporters learned that Rangel had paid $80,000 in campaign funds to an Internet company run by his son for the creation of the congressman's Political Action Committee website.
In August 2009, Newsmax.com reported that Rangel had "failed to report at least $500,000 in assets on his 2007 Congressional disclosure form." Newsmax added:
"[A]mong the dozen newly disclosed holdings revealed in the amended forms are a checking account at a federal credit union with a balance between $250,0000 and $500,000; three vacant lots in Glassboro, N.J., valued at a total of $1,000 to $15,000; and stock in PepsiCo worth between $15,000 and $50,000. The new [disclosure] forms report that Rangel’s total net worth is between $1,028,024 and $2,495,000 — about twice the amount listed in the original disclosure statement, filed in May 2008, which declared assets totaling between $516,015 and $1,316,000."
Rangel was also accused of:
- taking a $1 million contribution to the Rangel Center at City College from a wealthy businessman whose company sybsequently received a lucrative tax break; and
- accepting a Citigroup-funded trip to the Caribbean in November 2008, when the bank was in the midst of squandering much of the bailout money it had received from the federal government.
When "Hot Air TV" producer Jason Mattera asked Rangel, on hidden camera, to comment about his continuing tax issues, the congressman replied angrily, "Why don't you mind your own goddamn business?"
On March 3, 2010, Rangel stepped down from his post as the Ways and Means Committee chairman. The move, which Rangel said was "temporary," came after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the congressman that he did not have enough votes to survive an expected Republican challenge to his chairmanship.
In April 2010, Rangel condemned Arizona's Republican governor, Jan Brewer, for having signed into law a bill deputizing state police to check with federal authorities on the immigration status of any individuals whom they had stopped for some legitimate reason, if the behavior or circumstances of those individuals led the officers to suspect that they might be in the United States illegally. Said Rangel: "The racism in this country is well known. Arizona has just pulled the sheets off of it."
On July 29, 2010, House investigators accused Rangel of 13 violations of congressional ethics standards, including, in addition to those listed above, such transgressions as:
- use of congressional staff and stationery to raise money for the New York City college center named in his honor;
- acceptance of favors and benefits from donors that may have influenced his votes in Congress; and
- misuse of the congressional free mail privilege.
Said Rangel in response to the allegations: "Even though they are serious charges, I'm prepared to prove that the only thing I've ever had in my 50 years of public service is service. That's what I've done and if I've been overzealous providing that service, I can't make an excuse for the serious violations."
On the eve of Rangel's ethics trial in November 2010, it was reported that during 2009-10, the congressman had improperly used $393,000 from his National Leadership political-action committee to pay for his legal defense -- yet another breach of House ethics. Politicians typically use Leadership PACs to donate money to other candidates. According to the House Ethics Manual: "The only campaign funds that a member may use to pay for congressional expenses are funds of his or her principal campaign committee -- not the funds of a leadership PAC or a multicandidate committee."
Apart from the $393,000 in PAC funds, records show that Rangel used $1.4 million from his campaign coffers in 2009 and 2010 to pay the firm Zuckerman Spaeder, his main legal-defense team; plus $100,000 in 2009 to pay Lanny Davis' law firm; plus $147,577 for the Washington, DC-based attorney John Kern; plus $174,303 for Watkins, Meegan, Drury & Co., a firm that provides forensic accounting and legal services. These transactions were legally permissible.
On November 15, 2010, Rangel appeared before a House ethics subcommittee and tried to delay his trial, claiming that he could not afford to hire an attorney after having incurred nearly $2 million in legal fees during the previous two years. Having said that, Rangel walked out of the proceedings. The subcommittee nonetheless deliberated over the congressman's charges.
The next day, the ethics subcommittee convicted Rangel on 11 of the 13 counts against him, thereby setting the stage for a full ethics panel to hold a sanctions hearing, where it would recommend a punishment. Asked if he had any reaction to the subcommittee's decision, Rangel told reporters, "Nope, none." In an official statement, the congressman then denounced the ethics subcommittee's "unprecedented" decision, claiming that his "due process rights" had been violated since the ruling was issued in spite of the fact that Rangel had no legal representation and "was not even in the room" during the proceedings.
On November 18, 2010, the House ethics committee voted 9-1 in favor of censuring Rangel and requiring him to pay any unpaid taxes on unreported rental income from his vacation home in the Dominican Republic. "I was not trying to criminally hide anything from the IRS or from the Congress," said Rangel, explaining that he was guilty of nothing more than sloppy record-keeping.
On December 2, 2010, the full House of Representatives voted 333 to 79 in favor of censuring Rangel for financial misconduct, thereby making him the 23rd House member ever to be censured -- and the first since since 1983. The censure proceedings required Rangel to appear at the front of the chamber while Speaker Nancy Pelosi read the resolution. Short of expulsion, censure is the most severe punishment that the House can levy against a member.
Despite the censure, Rangel was able to defeat the Democrats who made a bid to take his House seat in 2012. In June of that year, Rangel won his District's Democratic primary by a margin of 45.7% to 39.1 over his closest opponent, Adriano Espaillat. A Dominican-American state senator, Espaillat had been expected to benefit from the District's newly redrawn boundaries which gave the area a much larger Latino population.
In August 2013, Rangel derided Tea Party members as "the same group we faced in the South [during the early civil-rights movement] with those white crackers and the dogs and the police" and a "fierce indifference to human life."
In an August 2013 interview on MSNBC, Rangel said:
“There is no reason why a young person should have to pay for college education, because who does it benefit except a nation? Who are we competing against? Not ourselves, but China and other industrialized countries, they decide what they need, and they provide the incentives. Here we don’t have nurses and doctors, and then when a person gets out of health school, I mean out of medical school, they can’t get the money to pay off their debt. It doesn’t make sense.”
On October 8, 2013, Rangel was one of eight members of Congress (all Democrats) who were arrested when they sat in the middle of Independence Avenue and blocked rush-hour traffic during an immigration rally on Washington’s National Mall. Though the Mall was, at that time, legally closed due to a so-called “government shutdown” that had gone into effect a week earlier, the National Parks Service allowed the demonstration to take place because of First Amendment protections. Consisting of more than 15,000 participants, the rally was intended to persuade Congress to pass legislation allowing illegal immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship. Also arrested were U.S. Representatives Joseph Crowley, Keith Ellison, Al Green, Raul Grijalva, Luis Gutierrez, John Lewis, Charles Rangel, and Jan Schakowsky.
In March 2014, Rangel smeared Tea Party activists as racists: "They are mean, racist people. Now why do I say that? Because in those red states, they’re the same slave-holding states. They had the Confederate flag. They became Dixiecrats; they had the Confederate flag. They’re now the Tea Party; they still got the Confederate [flag]. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. There is nothing the president [Obama] can do -- not love of country, not love of party -- that they’re not prepared to kill themselves to get to him."
At an October 2014 re-election campaign rally for New York Governor Mario Cuomo, Rangel derided Republicans as evil racists committed to thwarting the Democrats' noble, high-minded ideals. Said the congressman: "We have to win. We have to be able to send a national message with Andrew Cuomo. And the thing is: Everything we believe in — everything we believe in — they hate. They don't disagree — they hate! They think if you didn't come from Europe 30 years ago, we shouldn't have immigration. Some of them believe that slavery isn't over and they and think they won the Civil War!" Regarding the upcoming midterm elections, Rangel added: "And so what we have to do is send a collective voice. Everything we're [Democrats are] doing is God's work: education, healthcare, affordable housing, [protecting against] discrimination, paying people the minimum wage."
The day after the Republican Party recaptured control of the U.S. Senate in the November 2014 midterm elections, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Rangel whether he wished to retract his assertion that the GOP “doesn’t believe slavery is over.” But Rangel firmly held his position, accusing Southern Republicans of supporting slavery and believing in white racial superiority:
"I meant that they used to call themselves Dixiecrats. These were slave-holding states. They’ve been frustrated with the Emancipation Proclamation. They turned over, became Republicans, then they became Tea Party people. And these are the people that are trying to frustrate people from voting, changing the voting rights that we fought so hard for. And all I’m saying is, if you want to challenge the statistics, find out where the slave-holding states are, find out whether they were Dixiecrats, went Republican, find out where the tea party is.
"And I’m just saying that it’s unfortunate America doesn’t deal with the problem of racism. But until we acknowledge that it exists and fight hard to eradicate it, then we still got to be frustrated by people. They all come from the South, and they all have these feelings about superiority, and that’s true whether you’re picking cotton or whether you’re president of the United States....
"We’re talking about a cancer that we have in the United States of America. America knows who they are. They know how they feel. And we’re talking about dealing with them. And quite frankly, the healthiest thing that could happen to this Republican majority, is that they don't have to have the tail [Tea Party] wagging the dog. They don't need the Tea Party.... So maybe slavery was the wrong word. But racial superiority, unfortunately, is a disease that a handful of people [Tea Partiers] have, and they were holding back the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. Maybe now that Republican leadership doesn’t need them, they can go along with people who want to improve the quality of life for all Americans and not those who just look like them."
On January 5, 2015, Rangel was a guest on MSNBC's The Ed Show, hosted by Ed Schultz, to discuss the police officers who, in a show of disrespect for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, had turned their backs to the mayor as he eulogized slain NYPD officer Wenjian Liu at the latter's recent funeral. When asked to comment, Rangel gave a rambling answer in which he characterized the police as haters, talked about the dead soldiers he had seen during his service in the Korean War, and finished by complaining about what he called the "blue wall of silence." The exchange went as follows:
Schultz: "Isn’t it important, though, to point out that not all the police officers turned their back? There's a few in the ranks that are saying, you know, by respecting these officers, okay, we've got to move on, but there are some who say they don't want to move on. Your thoughts, Charlie."
Rangel: "It's awkward, because no one wants to be in the position that you're not with your colleagues, right or wrong, but when the moral issue raises it beyond just being liked, and you have so much love and respect for the job, that you have assumed that you're not going to allow a handful of people who are blinded by hate to spoil the reputation. There’s a hell of a lot that’s has to do -- I was in combat, and I’m telling you, I saw more dead people, but I never was moved until I saw dead people that looked like me in my uniform. And it does make a difference. So, yes, the blue wall of silence that has kept communities and minority communities apart for so long, so that even minority policemen don't want to break that silence. But it has to be done."
Rangel serves as an honorary president of Americans for Democratic Action, along with such notables as Barney Frank, John Lewis, Jim McDermott, and George McGovern.