The Constitution's Article I, Section 5, clause 2 authorizes the House of Representatives to discipline or "punish" its members for "disorderly Behavior," as well as for criminal, civil liability, or other misconduct issues. Ostensibly it's to protect the institutional integrity and reputation of the body, an impossible challenge given its longstanding record, notably over the past three decades, deserving far more than censure.
Punishment may be by reprimand, censure, expulsion, and/or fines, monetary restitution, loss of seniority, and suspension or loss of certain privileges. In addition, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct may issue a formal Committee reproach by "Letter of Reproval" for misconduct not warranting full House action. It may also express disapproval by informal letters and/or direct communications with members.
In US history, five members were expelled, three during the Civil War for disloyalty to the Union. Others, however, resigned ahead of formal House action. More recently, on October 2, 1980, Rep. Michael J. Myers was removed after being convicted of bribery for political favors in the so-called ABSCAM FBI sting operation. On July 24, 2002, Rep. James Traficant, Jr. was also expelled after his 10-count conviction on charges of accepting favors, gifts and money in return for performing official beneficial acts for donors.
Unlike "expel," the term "censure" doesn't appear in the Constitution, although it's also authorized under Article I, Section 5, clause 2 power to "punish...Members for disorderly Behavior." Most actions occurred in the 19th century, usually over issues of decorum, including insulting other members on the floor, committing violent acts against them, supporting recognition of the Confederacy, selling military academy appointments, or more recently for financial misconduct or sexual misbehavior with House pages.
On July 11, 1832, Rep. William Stanberry was the first member censured for insulting the House Speaker. Prior to December 2, 2010, Reps. Daniel Crane and Gerry Studds were both censured on July 20, 1983 for sexual misconduct with House pages.
Charles Bernard Rangel, Democrat Representative for New York's 15th Congressional District
On December 2, the House voted 333 - 79 to censure Rangel (a 20-term member since January 1971) for ethics violations, its harshest penalty short of expulsion.
He becomes the 23rd House member so disciplined. In his case, it's for 11 of 13 charges, including improperly soliciting millions of dollars from corporate officials and lobbyists, failing to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars of income and assets on financial disclosure forms, maintaining a rent-subsidized luxury Harlem apartment for his campaign committee, and failing to pay income taxes on a Dominican Republic villa.
In one of several December 2 New York Times articles, David Kocieniewski headlined, "As Rangel Stands Silently, Censure Vote Rings Loudly," saying:
"....his gaze steady (and) hands clasped before him, (Rangel) stood silently in the well of the House of Representatives....as Speaker Nancy Pelosi somberly read a resolution censuring him for bringing discredit to the House," and "violat(ing) the public trust."
Imagine the brazen hypocrisy by a tainted Speaker and body. More on that below.
A December 2 Times editorial headlined, "The House Rebukes Mr. Rangel," calling "the mood on the House floor....appropriately grim." Adding also that "Taxpayers disgusted by Mr. Rangel's actions and Congress' go-along-get-along attitude must demand more...."
Indeed so, but not what The Times suggests. More on that as well.
Major Unaddressed Issues
Besides their own compromised ethics, notably their ties to big money donors, both Congress and administration officials are guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, ones far greater than Rangel's self-enrichment.
The list is long and disturbing, affecting all 535 members and every key administration official - serious crimes deserving indictments, prosecutions, and for most, imprisonment, not slaps on the wrist, reprimands, censure, expulsion, or for a president and vice president, impeachment, conviction, and removal.
Unsurprisingly, the extensive Times coverage said nothing, nor ever earlier about high government crimes and misdemeanors, the "newspaper of record" effectively endorsing them. That's its role serving power and privilege, relenting only in rare instances, this time on Rangel, perhaps reluctantly. Never for the most serious criminality, examples below.
(1) Crimes of war and against humanity. All congressional members supporting the bogus war on terror and illegal Iraq and Afghan wars, including funding, are guilty, as are high, middle, and lower level administration officials, including the president and vice president.
(2) Looting the Treasury for Wall Street and corporate favorites.
(3) Bailing out criminal banks instead of nationalizing or closing them, and prosecuting their top officials for fraud and grand theft.
(4) Consigning millions of Americans to impoverishment without jobs, homes, savings, social services, or futures.
(5) Letting hunger, homelessness, and poverty fester while plundering the nation's resources illegally.
(6) Funding Israel's war machine, its crimes and overall lawlessness.
(7) Illegally supporting regime change in independent countries, including Venezuela, Iran, Honduras, Haiti, Ecuador, North Korea, and elsewhere.
(8) Prohibiting independent political parties from challenging a two-party dictatorship, supporting privilege, not popular interests.
(9) Endorsing pre-scripted, big money-funded fake elections, not a free, fair and open process.
(10) Allowing the world's largest homeland gulag to grow, persist, and commit grotesque crimes against inmates, many unjustly convicted.
(11) Passing police state laws, turning democracy into tyranny.
(12) Endorsing torture as official policy.
(13) Permitting the criminalization of activists, challenging state policy against imperial wars, homeland repression, and favoritism for wealth over vital popular needs.
(14) Endorsing a corrupted judicial system, including stacking the federal bench with right-wing ideologues.
(15) Passing wealth and power-friendly legislation, harming millions, including the middle class, targeted for destruction.
(16) Vilifying Muslims for their faith, ethnicity, prominence, activism, and charity.
(17) Targeting human rights attorneys and other lawyers who defend unpopular clients too vigorously.
(18) Calling patriotic whisleblowers traitors.
(19) Attacking a free and open Internet.
(20) Denying immigrants of color fair and just treatment.
(21) Supporting privatization of essential services, including healthcare and education.
(22) Working covertly to end Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other vital social services.
Much more as well by officials corrupting the notion of government of, by and for the people. Repeatedly, they've betrayed the public trust by acting illegally, immorally, and/or destructively, including Rangel for his voting record, and (until replaced on March 3 over ethics charges), as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
It has jurisdiction over tax policy, tariffs, other revenue-raising measures, and vital programs, including Social Security, Medicare, unemployment benefits, federal welfare, enforcement of child support laws, and foster care and adoption programs. Its chairman holds immense power for good or ill. None in recent memory, including Rangel, served honorably, a "crime" omitted from his charges, as well as his 40-year voting record, supporting power, privilege, imperial wars, and corporate interests like most members of Congress.
All should be held accountable for issues far graver than self-enrichment. They affect everyone but the super-rich and rich, including betrayed constituents deserving better from elected officials but never getting it from either party - a real crime demanding much greater punishment than wrist-slaps, reprimands, fines, loss of privileges, or sanctions.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.