The impending ethics hearing of Rep. Charles Rangel is evidence that the ethics process is working, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Tuesday at his weekly Capitol Hill press conference.
House Democrats have long struggled with how to handle Rangel's trial, which is slated to carry into mid-September, a few weeks before the November elections. Hoyer has found a way to frame it.
"I think the Rangel issue is demonstrative of the fact that the ethics process is working in a meaningful way, which is what the public wants," Hoyer said.
The Maryland Democrat did, however, admit that the party would be better off without the scandal. "I think everybody would like to have it go away in the sense that this is not a pleasant process," he said. "It is, however, an important process. It's an important process to make sure the public understands that when there is an allegation of improper behavior by members, the ethics committee will pursue it. That's what they're doing."
There still has been no word on how the former Ways and Means Committee chairman plans to deal with the potentially damning ethics hearing scheduled to begin Thursday, and no evidence that he intends to step down. Rangel has come under fire for his handling of personal finances, particularly his ownership of four rent-controlled apartments in Harlem, and his belated disclosure of hundreds of thousands of dollars on financial forms.
Party strategists say House Democrats are privately hoping that Rangel either resign before Thursday or make a settlement, to save House leadership the awkwardness of having to denounce or defend him. But some lawmakers, such as Reps. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio) and Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) have already called for Rangel's gavel.
Democrats campaigned very effectively against the Bush era "culture of corruption" in 2006, and now there is some concern that they could find themselves pinned with the corruption label.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, however, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's executive director, Jon Vogel, said he isn't worried.
"The reason that these investigations are [happening] is because of the tough new ethics laws that the Democratic Congress passed," Vogel said at a Netroots Nation panel last week in Las Vegas. "This wouldn't have even been happening four years ago."
"[Obama] doesn't get enough credit..." said Democratic National Committee Executive Director Jennifer O'Malley Dillon, also speaking at the panel. "Whether it's the ethics guidelines or it's just the change in tone and tenor, I just think it's dramatic and it's important."
Hoyer was quick to contrast the Rangel ethics upheaval with how the Bush Administration conducted itself when allegations against Rep. Mark Foley emerged. "The Foley matter was ignored for years -- for years!" said Hoyer.
Below is the full the Netroots panel, "How Democrats will win in 2010: A conversation with leaders of the Democratic Party," presided over by HuffPost's Sam Stein.