The politically charged decisions by veteran Democratic Reps. Charles Rangel of New York and Maxine Waters of California to force public trials by the House ethics committee are raising questions about race and whether black lawmakers face more scrutiny over allegations of ethical or criminal wrongdoing than their white colleagues.
The controversy over the cases and the prospect of the first simultaneous ethics trials for multiple members in more than 30 years mark the biggest challenge for the ethics committee’s and the House’s ability to police its own members since the mid-1990s, when then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and other leaders from both parties found themselves hauled before the secretive panel.
The question of whether black lawmakers are now being singled out for scrutiny has been simmering throughout the 111th Congress, with the Office of Congressional Ethics a focal point of the concerns. At one point earlier this year, all eight lawmakers under formal investigation by the House ethics committee, including Rangel and Waters, were black Democrats. All those investigations originated with the OCE, which can make recommendations — but take no final actions — on such cases.