Washington (AP) - Rep. Charles Rangel is struggling to hold on to his powerful tax-writing committee chairmanship, with the House speaker declining to endorse him and other Democrats clearly nervous about retaining a leader who has been accused of ethical misconduct.
"You bet your life," Rangel told reporters Tuesday night when asked if he would remain as House Ways and Means chairman. However, his comment followed a private meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who refused to discuss the session -- even though last week she said Rangel could continue in his position pending the outcome of a second ethics investigation of his conduct.
A key Democratic aide, who was not authorized to comment on Rangel's fate, said Tuesday that Rangel was expected to step down temporarily, possibly reflecting Pelosi's message to the 20-term New York Democrat. A number of Democrats have called for Rangel to relinquish his chairmanship, at least temporarily.
Rangel, accused by the House ethics committee last week of violating gift rules, plays a vital role for Democrats.
Party members want an untainted leader to be their chief negotiator in deciding the fate of billions of dollars in expiring tax breaks at year's end, including popular income tax deductions for sales and property taxes.
Democratic incumbents facing tough races don't want to fend off a Republican campaign focusing on Rangel's ethical cloud, especially after Pelosi promised to drain the swamp of ethical problems that plagued Republicans when they ran the House.
The ethics committee said Rangel violated standards of conduct by accepting 2007 and 2008 trips to Caribbean conferences that were financed by corporations. The committee said it could not prove whether Rangel knew of the corporate payments but concluded members of his staff knew about them -- and the congressman was responsible for their actions.
Rangel said he didn't even have "constructive knowledge" of the corporate sponsorship of the trips and couldn't be held responsible for something staff members may have known but which he didn't.
In a separate case, the ethics committee is looking into Rangel's fundraising for a college center to be established in his name, in addition to other allegations -- including belated financial disclosure filings that showed he previously failed to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in investments.
Rangel, after denying he was about to step down, said, "I would not lie to the press."
However, Tuesday's private meeting indicates the Democratic leadership may not be willing to wait until the next case is decided.
Republicans are planning to revive a resolution to force Rangel to step down, a tactic that has failed in the past but could pick up more support now that the ethics committee has accused Rangel of wrongdoing.
Associated Press writer Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this report.
"You bet your life," Rangel told reporters Tuesday night when asked if he would remain as House Ways and Means chairman. However, his comment followed a private meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who refused to discuss the session.