Hoyer: House to Censure Rangel Thursday Afternoon

Embattled Rep. Charlie Rangel, (D-N.Y.), will not be censured Wednesday. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, (D-Md.), says the proceeding will move to Thursday afternoon.

When asked earlier if the censure resolution would occur Wednesday, Rangel told Fox that it would not.  Rangel and Hoyer have spoken about the plan to move Thursday.

Hoyer says that unlike House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC), he "will wait to hear the report of the committee" before making a decision on how to vote on the censure resolution.

Yesterday, Clyburn indicated he thought censure was too harsh a sentence for Rangel and preferred a reprimand.

Hoyer also said that he has "confidence in the Ethics Committee," despite the suspension of two Ethics Committee staffers for their handling of a probe involving Rep. Maxine Walters (D-CA).

Still, Hoyer said he found the report about problems with Ethics Committee disturbing.

"I think it raises concerns and ought to be looked at," Hoyer said.

Two weeks ago, the House Ethics Committee recommended that the full House censure the Harlem Democrat for a host of transgressions. Rangel failed to pay taxes on a vacation villa he owned in the Dominican Republic and used Congressional stationary to solicit donations for a school of public service in his name at City College of New York.

Rangel referred himself to the Ethics Committee in the summer of 2008 in an effort to clear his name. In an exclusive interview with FOX, Rangel declared himself as "clean as the driven snow."

If the House votes to censure Rangel, it will mark the first time that the House has censured a Member of Congress since 1983. Back then, the House censured Reps. Daniel Crane (R-IL) and Gerry Studds (D-MA) for sexual misconduct with pages. The House has censured only 22 lawmakers in the history of the institution.

What is censure? What does it mean for Rangel? How does this work on the House floor?

Here's a "Hitchhiker's Guide" to censure to help you understand.

Censure is one of the four officially "recognized" forms of punishment in the House. The other modes of punishment include a fine, reprimand or expulsion.

The Constitution does not mention "censure," although "expel" does appear. But the Constitution grants the House and Senate the right to punish its members in any way it sees fit.

Think of censure as a reprimand on steroids, as it lies between reprimand and expulsion along the House discipline continuum.

Over the years, the House has voted to censure members of a variety of reasons ranging from including insulting the Speaker to accepting bribes to trying to recognize the Confederacy. There is no guideline for what constitutes grounds for censure. However, it is believed that the Ethics Committee chose a more harsh penalty for Rangel because he used to chair the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

Aside from serving as an amped-up dressing-down, censure imposes no additional penalty on a lawmaker. A censured member does not forfeit his or her salary, Congressional pension, leadership positions or Congressional privileges, such as the right to vote or on a committee. However, both the House Democratic Caucus and House Republican Conference sometimes strip disciplined lawmakers of various perquisites.

In the end, the Ethics Committee can only recommend to the full House what it believes is the appropriate punishment. It's up to the House to comply with the Ethics Committee's guidance or impose another sanction. One that could either be more severe or diminished. In fact, the House could vote against disciplining Rangel at all.

Here's how it works:

Late Monday night, the Ethics Committee referred a Censure Resolution to the full House. The text of the resolution was only 99 words long and declarative in nature.

"In the matter of Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York. Resolved, That Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York be censured," read the opening lines of the resolution. It went on to require Rangel "present himself in the well of the House" while the Speaker reads the resolution and censures him.

That's it.

But the House must vote to either enforce the Ethics Committee's bidding or do something else.

By nature, such a disciplinary resolution from the ethics panel is known in Congressional parlance as "privileged." Privileged resolutions skip to the front of the legislative line, trumping everything else the House has before it. And resolutions such as this are the exclusive province of the Ethics Committee. In other words, when the Ethics Committee is ready to spring the resolution on the House, everything else will come to a screeching halt.

Rumors floated around the Capitol Tuesday that the presentation of the Rangel resolution was imminent. Even Rangel conceded that he "had no idea" when the resolution could hit the floor.

This means the House could be ripe to take up the matter Wednesday.

Privileged resolutions are granted an hour of debate time. Ethics Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and ranking Republican Jo Bonner (R-AL) will control the floor, presumably cleaving the hour into 30 minute blocks per side. As "managers" of the resolution, they will then make the case for the House to censure Rangel. Lofgren and Bonner may yield time to other lawmakers to argue either for or against censure.

There are two things to watch for during this debate. The first is whether the managers allow Rangel to have his say. Rangel could also seek unanimous consent of the entire House to speak either before or after the hour is complete.

The second thing to watch for is whether any lawmaker attempts to amend the censure resolution, potentially to a less-serious punishment.

In order to do this, Lofgren or Bonner must yield time to that lawmaker for the purpose of offering an amendment. Listen closely to what's uttered on the House floor. It's presumed that the managers will yield time "for the purposes of debate only." That's the phrase they'll use. It means the lawmaker seeking recognition to speak may only debate the resolution, not try to amend it. But if a lawmaker is yielded time for something other than debate, than the resolution could be subject to amendment.

In this case, an amendment could only emasculate the punishment, not escalate it. For instance, a lawmaker could offer an amendment that seeks to only reprimand Rangel.

Then why couldn't someone offer an amendment to bolster the sanction? That's because the next level of punishment is expulsion. The House treats expulsion resolutions VERY seriously. Because of that fact, the House would not allow an upgrade in discipline because an expulsion resolution would have to come directly from the Ethics Committee, not in the form of an amendment on the floor.

After debate is complete (and Rangel has presumably had his say), the House will take two votes.

The first vote is known as "moving the previous question," or a "PQ" vote in Congressional shorthand. In essence, this is a vote to end debate and advance to a final vote. In other words, the "previous question" is the censure resolution. And calling a vote is "moving" it.

Here's where things could get interesting.

If the House successfully votes to "move the previous question," then lawmakers hold a second, up or down vote on whether to censure Rangel and the case is closed.

However, if the House votes against moving the previous question - in other words, advancing to the second vote, then control of the floor reverts to the minority party. At this stage, Republicans would seize control of the House for an hour and be permitted to offer their own forms of discipline for Rangel.

But if the House votes in favor of "moving the previous question," then the second vote takes place automatically. If a simple majority of lawmakers vote in favor of censure on the second round, then Rangel is thereby censured. If the House defeats the censure resolution, Rangel escapes unscathed.

However, there is another scenario where the House could potentially mete out punishment to Rangel.

In October, 2007, the House debated funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program, known as SCHIP. President Bush argued the measure was too expensive and opposed the bill. During a floor speech, Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) blasted the president for threatening to veto the bill yet advocating the war in Iraq.

"You don't have money to fund the war or children. But you're going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the president's amusement," Stark thundered.

A few days later, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) authored a resolution, which, if approved by the House, would have censured Stark for his comments about President Bush.

The Boehner resolution did not follow the usual avenues of House discipline, climbing up the rungs of the Ethics Committee. But had the House adopted the resolution, Stark would have been censured all the same.

As stated earlier, resolutions from the Ethics Committee are assigned "privileged" status on the House floor. Boehner's resolution was a parliamentary cousin of a privileged resolution, known as a "question of privileges of the House." While elite, these sorts of resolutions are not as distinguished as resolutions that emanate from the Ethics Committee. Still, the resolution could have the same impact.

In the Stark case, the House never even voted on Boehner's resolution of censure. Democrats moved to table, or set aside the proposal. So the actual vote was on whether or not the House should table the resolution, which is one step removed from actually voting yea or nay to censure Stark.

In short, any lawmaker could author a resolution similar to Boehner's and ask the House to discipline Rangel in some other fashion. This could range from expelling Rangel to making him miss recess next Tuesday. Remember, I said the Constitution gives the House and Senate broad latitude when it comes to sanctioning its members. But so far, there's no indication that anyone plans to offer such a resolution. And since these types of resolutions don't carry quite the same parliamentary weight as something from the Ethics Committee, the House could delay considering such a resolution for up to two days.

So the onus is now on the Ethics Committee. Perhaps Wednesday. Or whenever the panel wants to bring its resolution before the House. If lawmakers votes to censure Rangel, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will read the resolution aloud from her perch on the dais and verbally rebuke Rangel as he stands below in the well.

And with that, Rangel would join a gallery occupied by the likes of William Stanberry, Sherrod Williams, Orasmus Matteson, John Deweese and Oakes Ames. Just some of the 22 other House members who share the ignominious distinction of having been censured by the House of Representatives.