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Mum's the Word on Rangel

The future of embattled Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) is the talk of Washington, DC.

Yet no one wants to talk about him. Publicly.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) was initially mum when asked whether Rangel should resign amid a slew of ethics charges. Later Boehner said that the committee “has its job to do.”

“The committee has made its announcement,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). “And that’s all I know about it.”

“The system is working as it should,” offered House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD).

But nearly everyone on Capitol Hill is chattering about Rangel, efforts to cut a deal with him to accept punishment and how a potential ethics trial just before the contested fall elections could imperil other Democrats this fall.

But making public statements about Rangel is another matter.

Democrats are reluctant to talk about Rangel publicly because of the spectre of his alleged ethics transgressions could reflect poorly on them. Meantime, Republicans are hesitant to jump into the fray. That’s because a controversy centering on Rangel at election time is good news for them.

“Why should we say anything?” asked one senior House Republican aide.

This is ironic, considering how much attention Republicans sought to to focus on Rangel two years ago. The House Republican leadership brought multiple resolutions to the floor demanding the Democratic leadership punish him.

But the GOP is sitting on the sidelines for now.

“He has enough rope to hang himself,” said one GOP staffer. “We don’t need to give them any more.”

Last week, the House Ethics Committee indicated that a nearly two-year probe of Rangel’s conduct revealed wrongdoing. That triggered a rare House trial this fall. For months, the House Democratic leadership team has tried to implore Rangel to accept punishment and avoide a high-profile ethics spectacle which could be potentially embarrassing to Democrats.

Many Democrats say privately that they’ve grown impatient with Rangel in an effort to vindicate himself at the trial. Rangel stepped down in early March as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee after the Ethics panel ruled that the New York Democrat shouldn’t have allowed a private foundation to pay for his travel to the Carribean. But the committee continued to study a slate of other alleged misdeeds. Those issues range from a failure by Rangel to pay taxes on a villa in the Dominican Republic to using Congressional resources to raise money for a school of public affairs named after him at City College in New York.

Freshman Rep. Kathy Dalhkemper (D-PA) became the first House Democrat to cough up campaign contributions from Rangel on Monday.

Dahlkemper said she was donating the $14,000 Rangel contributed to her campaign to local charities. Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-IN) is running to succeed the retiring Rep. Evan Bayh (D-IN). He’s also returning his Rangel campaign money.