** UPDATES BELOW **
12:35 PM ET -- Pelosi chooses 'firebrand' Pete Stark to replace Rangel. "Speaker Nancy Pelosi has picked liberal firebrand Rep. Pete Stark to replace ousted Chairman Charles Rangel on the tax-writing committee," The Hill reports.
Stark is next in line for the post in seniority, but his maverick personality had led some to question whether he would get the gavel even on a temporary basis.
The 19-term Democrat has a penchant for making controversial remarks, and when Republicans controlled the House, Stark challenged then Rep. Scott McInnis (R-Colo.) to a fight during a Ways and Means Committee hearing.
10:02 AM ET -- New York Rep. Charles Rangel temporarily stepped aside as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Wednesday as he struggled with mounting ethics woes that left his political future uncertain at best.
Rangel's decision cheered Democrats who feared political fallout affecting their own futures, but did little to satisfy Republicans seeking a formal vote to require his permanent removal from the chairmanship.
The 20-term congressman has played a key role in President Barack Obama's attempts to win passage of historic health care legislation, and it was not clear who would replace him at the committee's helm.
Rangel is the senior African-American in Congress, and the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Barbara Lee of California said in a statement: "We look forward to the conclusion of the investigation and to him resuming his position as chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means."
A number of questions have been raised about the 79-year-old Rangel's conduct. Ethics investigators are looking into his use of his official position to raise money for a New York college center to be named after him and his belated disclosure of at least hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets and his use of rent-controlled apartments in New York.
Republicans had been calling for Rangel to step aside since last year, and these demands multiplied after the House ethics panel last Friday released a report accusing him of violating House gift rules in connection with a series of trips he took to the Caribbean.
The panel said that he had violated standards of conduct by accepting 2007 and 2008 trips to Caribbean conferences that were financed by corporations. It said it could not prove whether Rangel knew of the corporate payments but concluded that members of his staff knew about them -- and the congressman was responsible for their actions.
For his part, Rangel said he didn't even have "constructive knowledge" of the corporate sponsorship of the trips and couldn't be held responsible for something staff members may have known but which he didn't.
His political problems were compounded by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's promise to drain the swamp of ethics problems after Democrats took over the House -- following a 2006 campaign accusing Republicans of fostering a culture of corruption.
Rangel's decision to surrender the chairmanship of the powerful tax-writing committee, at least temporarily, raised questions about how the leadership vacuum will be filled.
Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark of California is the most senior Democrat on Ways and Means, but there's no certainty that Pelosi would name him to fill in for Rangel. Stark chairs the Ways and Means Committee's health subcommittee.
One top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts, said Stark would be the interim chairman of the committee. "It struck me that Mr. Stark was going to be chairman in the interim," said Neal, who said the issue was discussed at a meeting of committee Democrats Wednesday morning.
Other senior Democrats on the committee include Reps. Sander Levin of Michigan, Jim McDermott of Washington, John Lewis of Georgia and Richard Neal of Massachusetts.
Rangel called his news conference Wednesday on short notice, telling reporters, "My chairmanship is bringing so much attention to the press, and in order to avoid my colleagues having to defend me during their elections, I have this morning sent a letter" asking that he be granted "a leave of absence until such time as the ethics committee completes its work."
Pelosi met with Rangel Tuesday night and declined to endorse his continuing on as chairman. She said Wednesday in a statement, "I commend Chairman Rangel for his decades of leadership on jobs, health care, and the most significant economic issues of the day."
First elected in 1970, Rangel has raised considerable money for fellow Democrats. His leadership political action committee raised $2.2 million in the 2008 election cycle and spent $2 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He also raises money through a Rangel Victory Fund.
Republican campaign officials have started criticizing individual Democrats for holding on to chunks of campaign contributions that resulted from Rangel's fundraising.
As an example of his eroding support, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., is giving campaign funds affiliated with Rangel to charity, her spokesman said.
The congresswoman will donate $10,000 from the National Leadership PAC and $4,000 from Rangel for Congress that was contributed in the 2008 cycle, said Joe Katz, her spokesman.
Rangel set up the Rangel Victory Fund, to raise cash for his House campaign and for the political action committee. In 2009, most of its fundraising benefited Rangel's campaign. The Rangel Victory Fund steered at least $479,000 to Rangel's House campaign and roughly $70,000 to his National Leadership PAC last year.
The National Leadership PAC directed $10,000 to Democratic congressional candidates: $2,000 to Senate candidate Michael Capuano of Massachusetts and $1,000 each to New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Reps. Jim Himes of Connecticut, Debbie Halvorson of Illinois and Gary Peters of Michigan and New York Reps. Michael McMahon, Carolyn Maloney, Dan Maffei and Eric Massa. The fund spent at least $60,000 last year on a birthday gala fundraiser Rangel held at the historic Tavern on the Green restaurant in New York.
UPDATE 3:12 AM ET, Wed Mar 3 -- Rangel tries to hang on to Ways and Means post. The Associated Press now reports:
Rep. Charles Rangel is struggling to hold on to his powerful tax-writing committee chairmanship, with the House speaker declining to endorse him and other Democrats clearly nervous about retaining a leader who has been accused of ethical misconduct.
"You bet your life," Rangel told reporters Tuesday night when asked whether he would remain as House Ways and Means chairman. However, his comment followed a private meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who refused to discuss the session -- even though last week she said Rangel could continue in his position pending the outcome of a second ethics investigation of his conduct.
A key Democratic aide, who was not authorized to comment on Rangel's fate, said Tuesday that Rangel was expected to step down temporarily, possibly reflecting Pelosi's message to the 20-term New York Democrat. A number of Democrats have called for Rangel to relinquish his chairmanship, at least temporarily.
Rangel, accused by the House ethics committee last week of violating gift rules, plays a vital role for Democrats.
Party members want an untainted leader to be their chief negotiator in deciding the fate of billions of dollars in expiring tax breaks at year's end, including popular income tax deductions for sales and property taxes.
Democratic incumbents facing tough races don't want to fend off a Republican campaign focusing on Rangel's ethical cloud, especially after Pelosi promised to drain the swamp of ethical problems that plagued Republicans when they ran the House.
The ethics committee said Rangel violated standards of conduct by accepting 2007 and 2008 trips to Caribbean conferences that were financed by corporations. The committee said it could not prove whether Rangel knew of the corporate payments but concluded members of his staff knew about them -- and the congressman was responsible for their actions.
Rangel said he didn't even have "constructive knowledge" of the corporate sponsorship of the trips and couldn't be held responsible for something staff members may have known but which he didn't.
In a separate case, the ethics committee is looking into Rangel's fundraising for a college center to be established in his name, in addition to other allegations -- including belated financial disclosure filings that showed he previously failed to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in investments.
Rangel, after denying he was about to step down, said, "I would not lie to the press."
However, Tuesday's private meeting indicates the Democratic leadership may not be willing to wait until the next case is decided.
Republicans are planning to revive a resolution to force Rangel to step down, a tactic that has failed in the past but could pick up more support now that the ethics committee has accused Rangel of wrongdoing.
After meeting with Rangel, Pelosi initially said, "No comment" when asked if Rangel remains panel chairman.
She added, "I guess he is still chair of Ways and Means..."
Last week, during an interview with ABC News, Pelosi agreed with interviewer Elizabeth Vargas that Rangel's conduct "doesn't pass the smell test."
UPDATE 9:05 PM ET -- "You bet your life." AP:
WASHINGTON - Rep. Charles Rangel is denying that he's stepping down as chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.
A Democratic source, however, says Rangel is likely to "temporarily" relinquish his chair in wake of an ethic report that admonished him for taking two corporate paid trips.
Rangel told reporters "you bet your life" when asked if we was still chairman. He had just emerged from a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to discuss his fate.
Pelosi had no comment.
The House ethics committee last week said Rangel violated congressional gift rules by taking trips to the Caribbean in 2007 and 2008 that had corporate sponsors. The New York Democrat told ethics investigators that he did not know the trips were paid by corporations
UPDATE 8:35 PM ET -- Sources say Rangel will give up chairmanship tomorrow. Todd stands by his earlier reports that Rangel will voluntarily give up the gavel to the House Ways and Means Committee, but that it won't happen tonight. Todd tweeted that his sources tell him that Rangel will step down from the committee tomorrow and that Rep. Peter Stark (D-Calif.), not Rep. Levin, will take charge of the committee.
UPDATE: 8:18 PM ET -- Rangel denies it. Rangel has denied that he will give up his chairmanship tonight. Lawrence O'Donnell cited reports that Rangel denied the claims Tuesday and a tweet from CNBC assignment desk manager confirms Rangel's denial.
@RyanRuggiero: NBC News To Rangel: Are you still chair of House Ways and Means? Yes. NBC News: Will you be tomorrow? Rangel: You bet your life on it.
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