Charles Rangel was born in Harlem, New York on June 11, 1930. After a tour of duty in the U.S. Army (1948-52), he earned a B.A. from New York University in 1957 and a J.D. from St. John's University Law School in 1960. Rangel then worked as a lawyer in private practice before serving as Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York (1963), counsel to the speaker of the New York State Assembly (1965), counsel to the President’s Commission to Revise the Draft Laws (1966), and a member of the New York State Assembly (1966-70).
In 1968 Rangel was a founding member of the National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL), which was created to function as the legal arm of the Black Liberation Movement. Among NCBL's more prominent clients were Mumia Abu-Jamal, Benjamin Chavis, Angela Davis, Geronimo Pratt, Assata Shakur, the Attica Brothers, and the Wilmington Ten. Today NCBL is an ally of the National Lawyers Guild and an affiliate of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, the latter of which served as a Soviet front group during the Cold War era and is still dominated by communists and socialists.
In 1970 Rangel was elected, as a Democrat, to represent New York's 18th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. As a result of redistricting in subsequent years, he represented the 19th Congressional District from 1973-83, the 16th Congressional District from 1983-93, the 15th Congressional District from 1993-2013, and the 13th Congressional District from 2013 to the present. He is a also a longtime member of both the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Rangel served as a “Patron” for a January 20, 1972 testimonial dinner in honor of Ruth Gage-Colby, who was a leading communist sympathizer in the Hanoi Lobby, a committed supporter of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) and the Socialist Workers Party, and a longtime leader of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Additional Patrons of this event included Leonard Boudin, Debbie Bustin, Leon Davis, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Abe Feinglass, Jerry Gordon, Corliss Lamont, David Livingston, Florence Luscomb, Ruth Myers, Victor Reuther, Pete Seeger, I. F. Stone, and Dalton Trumbo.
Also in 1972, Rangel co-sponsored a two-day conference where a number of left-wing congressmen, radical activists, and communists gathered to promote a thawing of relations between the United States and Fidel Castro's Cuba. (For a list of fellow sponsors, click here.) The Secretary of the New York State CPUSA, Michael Myerson, was among the observers of the conference, which was financed by the Fund for New Priorities in America, a coalition of organizations sympathetic to pro-Communist causes.
Rangel would demonstrate his affection for Castro and Communist Cuba many times in subsequent years. For example:
In January 1978 Rangel attended a luncheon to honor Romesh Chandra, president of the World Peace Council (WPC), which was the Soviet Union's major international front organization during the Cold War era. Other members of the WPC delegation at the 1978 luncheon included: (a) Colonel Radomir Bogdanov of the Soviet KGB, and (b) Oleg Kharkhardin of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union International Department.
In 1981 Rangel was a vice president of the Independent Voters of Illinois's Independent Precinct Organization (IVIPO), which the FBI had long suspected of communist “infiltration.” (In 2003, both Michelle Obama and Barack Obama were members of IVIPO, which endorsed Mr. Obama in his 2004 U.S. Senate race.)
In 1983 Rangel endorsed a March 25th event where the New York Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) paid tribute to DSA member Ruth Messinger.
In February 1988 Rangel voted against the provision of U.S. aid to the Nicaraguan “Contras” who were fighting against that country's Marxist-Leninist Sandinista government. When the Sandinista government announced in October 1989 that it would stop complying with the 19-month-old cease-fire agreement it had negotiated with the Contras, the U.S. Congress voted 379-29 in favor of a resolution deploring the Sandinistas' action. Rangel was one of the 29 dissenters, all of whom were Democrats. Also voting against the resolution were such notables as Barbara Boxer, William Lacy Clay Sr., Peter DeFazio, Ron Dellums, Lane Evans, John Lewis, Major Owens, and Nancy Pelosi.
In 1990 Rangel, as part of the New Democratic Coalition (which was closely allied with the New York Democratic Socialists of America), personally endorsed the New York mayoral campaign of DSA member David Dinkins. The New Democratic Coalition also included a known leader of the Communist Workers Party as well as supporters of the CPUSA.
On August 6, 1993, Rangel spoke at a rally to commemorate Hiroshima Day at the United Nations' Dag Hammarskjold Park. The event was intended “to kickoff a national campaign to collect a million signatures supporting a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, commend President [Bill] Clinton for extending the nuclear testing moratorium, urge renewal of the Non Proliferation Treaty, [and] urge swift and complete nuclear disarmament.” Other speakers included Leslie Cagan, David McReynolds of the War Resisters League, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Congressman Major Owens, and Alyn Ware of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy. For a list of additional speakers, click here.
In 1997 Rangel co-sponsored Congressman Matthew Martinez's Job Creation and Infrastructure Restoration Act, which proposed to use $250 billion in federal funds for the establishment of union-wage jobs rebuilding infrastructure (e.g., schools, hospitals, libraries, public transportation, highways, and parks). Martinez had previously introduced this bill in 1995 at the the request of the Los Angeles Labor Coalition for Public Works Jobs, whose leaders were all supporters or members of the CPUSA.
On November 4, 1999, Rangel sent a letter expressing regret that he was unable to attend the 75th anniversary celebration of the Peoples Weekly World, the newspaper of the CPUSA. At the event, New York State Assembly citations were given to such notables as the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a member of the National Committee of the CPUSA.
Obsession With Race
Rangel, who is black, has a long history of levying charges of racism against his political and ideological adversaries. For example:
The day after the Republican Party recaptured control of the U.S. Senate in the November 2014 midterm elections, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Rangel whether he wished to retract his recent assertion that the GOP “doesn’t believe slavery is over.” But Rangel firmly held his position, accusing Southern Republicans of supporting slavery and believing in white racial superiority:
“I meant that they used to call themselves Dixiecrats. These were slave-holding states. They’ve been frustrated with the Emancipation Proclamation. They turned over, became Republicans, then they became Tea Party people. And these are the people that are trying to frustrate people from voting, changing the voting rights that we fought so hard for. And all I’m saying is, if you want to challenge the statistics, find out where the slave-holding states are, find out whether they were Dixiecrats, went Republican, find out where the tea party is.
“And I’m just saying that it’s unfortunate America doesn’t deal with the problem of racism. But until we acknowledge that it exists and fight hard to eradicate it, then we still got to be frustrated by people. They all come from the South, and they all have these feelings about superiority, and that’s true whether you’re picking cotton or whether you’re president of the United States....
“We’re talking about a cancer that we have in the United States of America. America knows who they are. They know how they feel. And we’re talking about dealing with them. And quite frankly, the healthiest thing that could happen to this Republican majority, is that they don't have to have the tail [Tea Party] wagging the dog. They don't need the Tea Party.... So maybe slavery was the wrong word. But racial superiority, unfortunately, is a disease that a handful of people [Tea Partiers] have ...”
In 2007, Rangel was one of 90 Members of Congress who signed an open letter to President Bush that stated: “We will only support appropriating funds for U.S. military operations in Iraq during Fiscal Year 2008 and beyond for the protection and safe redeployment of all our troops out of Iraq before you leave office.” The letter was initiated by the Peace Pledge Coalition, an alliance led by such notables as Medea Benjamin, Bill Fletcher, and Kevin Zeese, as well as representatives of the Progressive Democrats of America, Democrats.com, AfterDowningStreet.org, Velvet Revolution, and the Backbone Campaign.
In January 2007 Rangel became chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which writes the U.S. tax code. In October of that year, Rangel and this Committee unveiled a proposal for the single largest tax increase—on all income strata—in American history. Proudly dubbed the “mother of all tax bills” by Rangel, the legislation not only contained $1.3 billion in new taxes, but it also called for the repeal of the major tax cuts that Congress had enacted in 2001 and 2003. All told, the bill would have resulted in a tax hike of $3.5 trillion over a ten-year period.
In June 2009 Rangel and former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney both sent open letters to Attorney General Eric Holder, calling for a federal civil-rights investigation into the case of convicted cop-killer and Marxist revolutionary Mumia Abu-Jamal. In his letter, Rangel expressed concern that “improper jury selection and prosecutorial misconduct” in Mumia's trial had rendered the conviction invalid.
When the House of Representatives voted by a 345-75 margin to defund the notoriously corrupt community organization ACORN in September 2009, Rangel was one of the 75—all Democrats—who voted to continue funding the group. For a list of other legislators who voted as Rangel did, click here.
In February 2010 the House Ethics Committee formally admonished Rangel for having violated congressional gift policy by accepting corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean. Rangel was forced to repay the money, but blamed his staff for the oversight.
On March 3, 2010, Rangel stepped down from his post as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. The move, which Rangel said was “temporary,” came after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the congressman that he did not have enough votes to survive an expected Republican challenge to his chairmanship.
On July 29, 2010, House investigators accused Rangel of 13 violations of congressional ethics standards. Said Rangel in response to the allegations: “Even though they are serious charges, I'm prepared to prove that the only thing I've ever had in my 50 years of public service is service. That's what I've done and if I've been overzealous providing that service, I can't make an excuse for the serious violations.”
On the eve of Rangel's ethics trial in November 2010, it was reported that during 2009-10, the congressman had improperly used $393,000 from his National Leadership Political Action Committee to pay for his legal defense—yet another breach of House ethics rules. Politicians typically use Leadership PACs to donate money to other candidates. According to the House Ethics Manual: “The only campaign funds that a member may use to pay for congressional expenses are funds of his or her principal campaign committee—not the funds of a leadership PAC or a multicandidate committee.”
Apart from the $393,000 in PAC funds, records showed that Rangel had used $1.4 million from his campaign coffers in 2009 and 2010 to pay the firm Zuckerman Spaeder, his main legal-defense team; plus $100,000 in 2009 to pay Lanny Davis's law firm for services rendered; plus $147,577 for the Washington, DC-based attorney John Kern; plus $174,303 for Watkins, Meegan, Drury & Co., a firm that provides forensic accounting and legal services. These transactions were legally permissible.
On November 15, 2010, Rangel appeared before a House ethics subcommittee and tried to delay his trial, claiming that he could not afford to hire an attorney after having incurred nearly $2 million in legal fees during the previous two years. Having said that, Rangel walked out of the proceedings. The subcommittee nonetheless deliberated over the charges against the congressman.
The next day, the ethics subcommittee convicted Rangel on 11 of the 13 counts against him, thereby setting the stage for a full ethics panel to hold a sanctions hearing, where it would recommend a punishment. Asked if he had any reaction to the subcommittee's decision, Rangel told reporters, “Nope, none.” In a subsequent official statement, the congressman denounced the ethics subcommittee's “unprecedented” decision, claiming that his “due process rights” had been violated since the ruling was issued in spite of the fact that Rangel had no legal representation and “was not even in the room” during the proceedings.
On November 18, 2010, the House ethics committee voted 9-1 in favor of censuring Rangel and requiring him to pay any unpaid taxes on unreported rental income from his vacation home in the Dominican Republic. “I was not trying to criminally hide anything from the IRS or from the Congress,” said Rangel, claiming that he was guilty of nothing more than sloppy record-keeping.
On December 2, 2010, the full House of Representatives voted 333 to 79 in favor of censuring Rangel for financial misconduct, thereby making him the 23rd House member ever to be censured—and the first since since 1983. The censure proceedings required Rangel to appear at the front of the chamber while Speaker Nancy Pelosi read the resolution. Short of expulsion, censure is the most severe punishment that the House can levy against a member.
Despite the censure he received from the House of Representatives, Rangel was able to defeat the Democrats who subsequently made a bid to take his House seat in 2012. In June of that year, Rangel won his District's Democratic primary by a margin of 45.7% to 39.1% over his closest opponent, the Dominican-American state senator Adriano Espaillat.
On February 19, 2012, Rangel issued greetings to a those attending the centenary celebration of Henry Winston, who had served as national chairman of the Communist Party USA from 1966-86. This New York City event was hosted by Judith LeBlanc, and one of the guest speakers was the longtime revolutionary communist Angela Davis.
In early 2013, Rangel and a number of fellow elected officials and activists—most of whom were aligned with the Democratic Socialists of America—endorsed a proposal urging President Barack Obama to award a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom to the late Fred Ross Sr., a radical who had been trained by Saul Alinsky and had served as a mentor to both Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.
In an August 2013 interview on MSNBC, Rangel issued a call for free, publicly funded college tuition for everyone. Said the congressman: “There is no reason why a young person should have to pay for college education, because who does it benefit except a nation? Who are we competing against? Not ourselves, but China and other industrialized countries, they decide what they need, and they provide the incentives. Here we don’t have nurses and doctors, and then when a person gets out of health school, I mean out of medical school, they can’t get the money to pay off their debt. It doesn’t make sense.”
On October 8, 2013, Rangel was one of eight members of Congress (all Democrats) who were arrested when they sat in the middle of Independence Avenue and blocked rush-hour traffic during an immigration rally on Washington’s National Mall. Consisting of more than 15,000 participants, the rally was intended to persuade Congress to pass legislation allowing illegal immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship. Also arrested were U.S. Representatives Joseph Crowley, Keith Ellison, Al Green, Raul Grijalva, Luis Gutierrez, John Lewis, and Jan Schakowsky.
On January 5, 2015, Rangel was a guest on MSNBC's The Ed Show, hosted by Ed Schultz, to discuss the police officers who, in a show of disrespect for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, had turned their backs to the mayor as he eulogized slain NYPD officer Wenjian Liu at the latter's recent funeral. When asked to comment, Rangel gave a rambling answer in which he characterized the police as haters, talked about the dead soldiers he had seen during his service in the Korean War, and finished by complaining about what he called the “blue wall of silence.” The exchange went as follows:
Schultz: “Isn’t it important, though, to point out that not all the police officers turned their back? There's a few in the ranks that are saying, you know, by respecting these officers, okay, we've got to move on, but there are some who say they don't want to move on. Your thoughts, Charlie.”
Rangel: “It's awkward, because no one wants to be in the position that you're not with your colleagues, right or wrong, but when the moral issue raises it beyond just being liked, and you have so much love and respect for the job, that you have assumed that you're not going to allow a handful of people who are blinded by hate to spoil the reputation. There’s a hell of a lot that’s has to do -- I was in combat, and I’m telling you, I saw more dead people, but I never was moved until I saw dead people that looked like me [i.e., blacks] in my uniform. And it does make a difference. So, yes, the blue wall of silence that has kept communities and minority communities apart for so long, so that even minority policemen don't want to break that silence. But it has to be done.”
On January 7, 2015, Rangel was a guest speaker at a Washington, DC event honoring Rep. John Conyers for his “50 Years of Service.” Sponsored by the Institute for Policy Studies, this gathering also featured such guests as Robert Creamer, Julian Bond, Danny Glover, Marcus Raskin, Jan Schakowsky, Alan Grayson, John Cavanagh, and Irvin Jim, a self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist with the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa. Co-sponsors of the event included The Sentencing Project, The Nation, Peace Action, National People’s Action, Restaurant Opportunities Center United, Jobs with Justice, Friends of the Earth, Social Security Works, the Campaign for America's Future, USAction, Progressive Democrats of America, the Council for a Livable World, the Alliance For Justice, the Fund for Constitutional Government, ProgressiveCongress.org, Win Without War, the Economic Policy Institute, and the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
In June 2016, an interviewer asked Rangel whether or not he thought that his Harlem constituents should be able to acquire concealed-carry permits for handguns. Rangel replied: "I wouldn't want them to have it… Law-abiding citizens just shouldn’t have to carry a gun." When the interviewer then asked the congressman to justify his position in light of the fact that he (Rangel) benefited from armed protection at the Capitol, Rangel laughed and said: "Well that’s a little different. I think we deserve -- I think we need to be protected down here."
For an overview of key votes that Rangel cast during his legislative career, click here.
For additional information on Charles Rangel, click here.