Today, 20-term congressman Charlie Rangel (D-NY) faces the House Committee on Official Conduct, also known as the Ethics Committee. We don't yet know what the actual ethics charges against Rangel will be, because that won't be revealed until after the hearings start. Today isn't Rangel's trial, but more like an arraignment before the ethics committee. But he still could be out of Congress by the weekend.
Rangel has many friends in Congress after a forty year career and a long stint as chairman of the powerful tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. But after the charges are laid bare today, the question will become, how many friends does he have left? Expect many, if not most Republicans to call for Rangel's ouster. Many already have. But just two Democrats, both back-benchers in tough re-election fights, have called so far for Rangel to go.
But many lawmakers are probably holding their fire until the actual charges are known – and that moment comes today. Will Rangel be accused of simple sloppiness in reporting his income and underpaying his taxes from a rental property in the Dominican Republic? Will the Ethics Committee order him to repay back taxes and recommend a mild reprimand for being careless? If so, lawmakers might not feel that they need to distance themselves from Rangel by pushing him over the cliff.
But if the committee accuses Rangel of more serious charges, say knowingly evading taxes or purposely using the influences of his chairmanship on Ways and Means to solicit favors from corporations – that could well be a different story. Remember that many moderate and conservative Democrats won elections in Republican districts over the last three years by saying GOP excesses had gotten out of control. Speaker Nancy Pelosi famously promised to "drain the swamp" in the House by holding members to new high ethical standards. And if the charges against Rangel spook those lawmakers so badly that they fear for their own political hides this November, we could see many of them bolt away from him
If Rangel survives the weekend, an official trial before the full House of representatives would likely take place in September