Words matter in politics.
But after more than a week of being pursued through every nook, cranny, hallway, subway tunnel and underground passageway of of the U.S. Capitol complex, even the usually loquacious but embattled Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., has his limits.
Rangel's new totem?
As the House tore through a lengthy series of votes Friday afternoon, a scrum of reporters staked out the Harlem Democrat after he huddled behind closed doors with members of the Congressional Black Caucus in what had been his old office, a Ways and Means Committee hovel just off the House floor.
"No comment," Rangel declared as he emerged from the office suite to vote as reporters hectored him with a battery of questions.
A few minutes later, Rangel materialized in the Speaker's Lobby, the ornate corridor that runs behind the House chamber. A gaggle of scribes chased Rangel through the lobby and to the men's room.
"Was it unfair for Gene Green to reveal that they wanted to reprimand you?" asked a reporter of Rangel about Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, one of the lawmakers who conducted the ethics probe.
"I don't even think about it. I think about going to the bathroom," Rangel said, and then ducked inside.
The scrum of reporters loitered outside the men's room for Rangel to resurface.
When he did, Rangel took up a new mantle.
"Saying no comment is not in my DNA," Rangel declared as he walked back into the Speaker's Lobby.
Roll Call's Stephen Dennis was undaunted.
"Are you still trying to settle the case before September?" Dennis asked.
"No comment!" intoned Rangel in an embellished voice that sounded like Kermit the Frog.
The scrum or reporters erupted in laughter.
CBS's Jill Jackson tried something a little less controversial.
"What are your plans for the August break?" Jackson asked.
With that Rangel stopped and pulled Jackson close and whispered into her ear, just loudly enough that the press entourage could hear.
"No comment," he said under his breath.
The reporters laughed again as Rangel left them in his wake and strolled onto the House floor.