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Democrats Tap Levin to Replace Stark on Ways and Means Committee

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In this Aug. 6, 2007, file photo, Rep. Sander Levin, left, listens to Rep. Charles Rangel in Lima, Peru. (AP Photo)

Rep. Sander Levin has been tapped to fill Charlie Rangel's post as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee after Democratic lawmakers had second thoughts about elevating Rep. Pete Stark, who was technically next in line to the seat.

Levin, a Michigan Democrat, was talked about as a potential replacement Wednesday shortly after Rangel announced he would step down amid a wide-ranging ethics probe. But then Stark, of California, the next most-senior member to Rangel on the panel, emerged as the favored candidate. 

This decision, however, had many Democrats fretting, since Stark was seen by some as too volatile to lead such an important committee. His racially, sexually and politically charged remarks have gotten him in trouble in the past. 

Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., said after a meeting Wednesday that members wanted a consensus candidate. They met again Thursday to make their final decision. 

Stark ended up being chairman for a day -- he sent a letter to the House submitting his resignation as "acting chairman," so Levin could take over. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a written statement that despite Stark's resignation, Democrats will continue to rely on him in the course of the health care reform debate. Stark remains chairman of the Health subcommittee on the Ways and Means Committee. 

Levin said in a statement he looks forward to working with both parties in Congress, as well as the Obama administration, in his new job.

"The Ways and Means Committee plays a vital role on critical issues facing American families, including, job creation, economic development and health care. I look forward to moving vigorously on this agenda," he said. 

Though Levin said he would be the new "acting" chairman -- provided the full House approves the shift -- it's unclear whether Rangel's departure is temporary. The House does not formally recognize "acting" chairs, and the entire chamber would have to approve any attempt by Rangel to return to the post.

Rangel, who was admonished last week by the ethics committee over corporate funding of several trips he took to the Caribbean, said Wednesday that he was stepping down to avoid being a distraction, but Stark -- in the few hours he was considered for the job -- was already filling that void. 

The Republican National Committee blasted out an e-mail Thursday morning containing a slew of Stark's controversial commentary from the past two decades, calling him a "walking YouTube clip." 

In one notable quote, Stark, who is white, called former Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan, who is a black, a "disgrace to his race" back in 1990. He later said Sullivan was being "programmed" by the "overseers on the Sununu plantation." He was referring to then-White House Chief of Staff John Sununu. 

In a famous 2007 incident on the House floor, Stark also accused President Bush of sending troops to Iraq"to get their heads blown off for the president's amusement." 

He also once called former Colorado Republican Rep. Scott McInnis a "fruitcake." 

Even as Rangel resigns the post over ethics questions, the ethics panel just exonerated Stark in a smaller-scale investigation it conducted into a tax exemption he received for a piece of property in Maryland. 

The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct cleared Stark of any wrongdoing in January. 

Fox News' Chad Pergram and Jessica Weinstein contributed to this report.