Democrats Regret Giving Rangel The Floor
Dana Milbank notes this morning that House Democrats realize they made a mistake yesterday:
The Democrats, at long last, had strung together a good day. They forced House Republicans to return, grumbling, from summer vacation for votes that allowed Democrats to show support for teachers, cops and strong borders.
Then they got Rangeled.
“For what purpose does the gentleman from New York seek recognition?” the speaker asked of Rep. Charlie Rangel, the fallen Ways and Means chairman, when he rose from his seat early Tuesday afternoon.
The gentleman from New York sought recognition to deliver, without warning, one of the most extraordinary pieces of political oratory in recent memory. Facing a trial before the House Ethics Committee, he gave a rambling, 30-minute speech attacking the committee, the Republicans, his fellow Democrats and even his own lawyers. It was less of a floor speech than a primal scream directed at those who say he should resign, or cut a deal with the committee, to spare his party a political debacle in November.
Midway through the diatribe, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi left her seat and walked to the back of the chamber. When Rangel finally finished, a few dozen Democrats — mostly members of the black caucus, New Yorkers and liberals — stood to applaud. Most Democrats — including Rep. David Obey (Minn.), the man who was leading the teachers-and-cops bill on the floor — sat in silence. Democratic members, approached by reporters for comment as they left the chamber, looked stricken.
“Not now,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter.
“I didn’t really hear it,” pleaded Rep. Howard Berman.
“What speech?” asked Rep. Steve Cohen.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz merely rolled her eyes and shook her head.
They had reason to feel ill. Rangel had trampled all over their plan to make the day about teachers and cops. In a larger sense, his determination to answer charges before November is guaranteed to crowd out any message the Democrats were hoping to deliver before voters punish them in the midterm elections
In addition to causing them to lose the news cycle yesterday — does anyone really remember what that bill they passed is all about anyway ? — Rangel’s speech is likely to replay itself in the form of soundbites and campaign ads throughout the election cycle. It’s unclear if Rangel’s speech will have any impact on his own political fortunes, but it was bad news for Democrats. And they know it.