Embattled Rep. Charles Rangel of New York took to the House floor Wednesday night to defend himself against mounting ethics charges, engaging in an unusual joust with House Republican Leader John Boehner — who is calling on Rangel to relinquish his committee chairmanship.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle sat in rapt attention as Rangel, a Democrat from New York, addressed the House for more than 20 minutes by taking a "point of personal privilege," a procedural vehicle that allows lawmakers to defend themselves on the floor when questions have been raised about their integrity.
“It does not help to polarize this body and take wild shots at each other,” Rangel said, referring to Boehner repeatedly as “my friend” and saying he doesn’t believe Boehner actually buys into his own rhetoric.
“I’m embarrassed that he feels he has to do this,” Rangel said, later adding: “I know that my friend John Boehner does not mean truly what he says.”
Boehner and other GOP leaders penned a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday calling for Rangel to step down as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee pending an inquiry into recent allegations.
They cited news reports that Rangel has been renting four Harlem apartments at below-market rates and has collected more than $75,000 in undeclared income from a vacation home in the Dominican Republic.
Rangel concedes he did not pay taxes on the vacation villa and owes about $5,000 to the Internal Revenue Service — though the total figure could be more when counting state and local taxes.
But Rangel said Wednesday that once the dust clears, these issues will be “moot.” He urged Congress to wait until the inquiry is complete.
“Leave it to the bipartisan ethics committee to decide. It’s not only the right and fair thing to do, it’s the only thing to do,” Rangel said.
Boehner then took the floor to stress that he stands by his call for Rangel to step down.
“Charlie Rangel and I are friends, and it pains me to do what I had to do on behalf of my colleagues,” he said.
“My interest here is not to claw at my friend from New York. My interest here is to have justice and to have all of us live by the rules of the House. I’m sorry I had to do it, but I have a job to do,” he said. “The sooner we get this cleaned up the better … but in the meantime in fairness to the members of the House … stepping aside would in fact be the right thing to do.”
Rangel told FOX News in the hallway afterward that he felt better after having spoken and that he still considers Boehner his friend.
Rangel's attorney Lanny Davis earlier released a statement saying the congressman would not step down, and accused Boehner of "cheap-shot partisanship."
Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly also said Republicans should "stop playing politics and allow the bipartisan ethics committee to do its job."
The ethics panel is examining Rangel's unusual deal for the beach villa, as well as the four rent-stabilized apartments he uses in his Harlem district, and a series of letters he wrote seeking support for a New York education center named after him.
Rangel purchased the beach house in 1988 for a price of $82,750, with a down payment of $28,900 and a mortgage of $53,850. Over the next 15 years, he did not make any payments directly for the mortgage, but the managers of the resort property used rental income from the property to gradually pay down the mortgage.
During all but two years of the mortgage, Rangel paid no interest on it.
FOX News' Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.