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Why Charlie Rangel stepped down as Ways and Means chairman

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Rangel faces ongoing ethics probes on issues ranging from misuse of rent-controlled apartments in New York and failure to disclose income from a villa in the Dominican Republic to reports that he exchanged official favors – a tax loophole for oil driller Nabors Industries Ltd. – in exchange for a $1 million gift to the Charles Rangel Center at City College of New York.

“He’s not getting that chairmanship back, because trips to the Caribbean are the least of his problems,” says Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW), an ethics watchdog in Washington.

“As we get deeper into election season, support is eroding for Rangel, because members know that ethics matters with voters,” she adds.

Republicans lost a bid to remove Rangel from his chairmanship on Oct. 7, 2009, after all but one Democrat voted to derail the motion. But aides on both sides of the aisle say that a similar motion GOP leaders had planned to introduce Wednesday, would have drawn considerably more Democratic votes. At least a dozen Democrats have publicly called on Rangel to step down.

As recently as Tuesday night, Rangel said that he planned to stay on as committee chair. In a hastily called press briefing this morning, he changed course. “In view of the fact that my chairmanship is bringing so much attention to the press, and in order to avoid my colleagues having to defend me during their elections, I have this morning sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi asking her to grant me a leave of absence until such time as the ethics committee completes its work,” he said.

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