When you have come of age in the maelstrom of Harlem politics and served more than forty years in Congress like Rep. Charles Rangel, to be anything but resolute would be surprising.
“I’m doing fine and I’m simply overwhelmed by the outpouring of support,” he said in a recent phone interview. “It’s something I’ve never witnessed and it has really recharged my battery.”
Even a few of his often combative colleagues in Washington, he said, are treating him better. What continues to irritate him, though, is the news media insistence on characterizing the current investigation as a scandal.
“Charlie deserves due process since it’s an ongoing investigation,” said Queens Rep. Gregory Meeks, during an appearance on NY1. “He has been a great congressman and he continues to be an effective leader.”
“They have presented no criminal evidence and come to no conclusion,” Rangel said, referring to the House ethics investigation. Two weeks ago, he took a leave of absence as the Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. “I’m hoping it’s just a temporary thing. But meanwhile I’m on the committee and functioning as I always have,” he said.
That function nowadays has centered almost exclusively on health care reform, and Rangel devoted most of the call to that pressing issue with a few side comments on Haiti and the controversy swirling around Winnie Mandela.
“The president is putting everything on the line with health care reform,” Rangel explained. “It will be a great political blow if we fail, particularly to a lot of the Democrats facing close elections.”
But ever the optimist, Rangel believes the bill will become law, but it begs the question, which bill?
“Well, first of all, the Republicans are against the wall, and the question will be for future generations, as it was with the struggle around civil rights, people will ask ‘Did you vote for the bill or not?’ They shouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of history.”
Rangel carefully explained the complicated bills in the House and in the Senate. As it stands at the moment, he said, the House has taken parts of its bill and blended with the Senate bill which, after conference, will be sent to President Obama to sign. Then another bill between the two chambers will be prepared for the process of budget reconciliation. Obama will have to sign that one as well. “In effect, what will be on the table is a third bill,” he added.
“But keep in mind, reconciliation can only be used to pass a small portion of the bill,” Rangel continued. “What the American people will learn that after the bill is passed, they will begin to see the benefits. There are a number of diamonds in the rough.”
Even so, he warned, there are the issues of abortion and immigration, and they have to be worked out among the 431 representatives. He believed that a vote may come as early as Thursday. “We got to get this done, and I think we’re just about there,” he concluded.
On the continuing crisis in Haiti, Rangel expressed his concern, noting the necessity to maintain financial and moral support for the devastated island nation. “I’ve been working to get special legislation in place for the relief effort,” he said. “For years I’ve provided assistance to Haiti and they need it now more than ever.” He was at the recent meeting between President Obama and President Rene Preval of Haiti.