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Rangel returns to Capitol Hill for first time since Feb. 9

81-year-old Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) returned to Capitol Hill to vote tonight for the first time since Feb. 9.

Rangel says a virus fused itself into his spine. That prompted excruciating pain, making it nearly impossible to walk. The Harlem Democrat was hospitalized for a time at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York. After therapy Rangel has been using a walker lately.

Some of his House Democratic colleagues feted Rangel with a brief reception this evening in the Rayburn House Office Building. Rangel rode into the reception, piloting a red, Panther LX-4 motorized cart.

“Do you have a license for that thing?” asked Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI) as Rangel made a grand entrance.

“I’m trying to get rid of it!” Rangel responded who then rose and worked the room."Several members of New York’s Congressional delegation and members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) spoke, welcoming Rangel. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also made an appearance.“When you are not here, there’s a gaping hole in our caucus,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), the chair of the CBC.

In June, Rangel faces perhaps one of his toughest primary challenges in his 41 years in Congress. State Sen. Adriano Espaillat is trying to unseat Rangel and become the first Dominican-American to serve in Congress. A redrawing of New York’s Congressional maps has added significant numbers of Latino voters to Rangel’s district. Also on the ballot is Clyde Williams, a former adviser to President Clinton. Williams outraised Rangel in the first quarter of 2012.

“As of now, none of my opponents have said anything unpleasant about me. Let me get myself into trouble. I can’t imagine what they would say,” remarked Rangel.

The virus significantly curbed Rangel’s campaigning, limiting him to only a handful of events since mid-winter. He’s also missed 146 of the House’s 195 roll call votes this year, or 75 percent.

“I’ve had more damn MRI’s than you want to believe,” Rangel said. “I’ve become so damn dependent.”

Rangel’s wife Alma stood at his side as the Congressman made brief remarks to the crowd.

“Let me publicly say Alma, I love you,” Rangel said.

His wife chimed in without missing a beat.

“Let me just say I’m glad he’s back as well,” interjected Alma Rangel, drawing laughter from the crowd.

Rangel was left for dead on the battlefield after being shot during the Korean War. He said while he was in agony over his back, his “that experience makes this manageable.”

“It was a pain that people have to scream about,” Rangel said. “I can’t think of a Republican I’d wish this on.”