Rangel Steps Down as Chair Amid Ethics Probe

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Congressman Charlie Rangel is temporarily stepping down as chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

Last week the House formally reprimanded the New York Democrat for accepting donations to pay for trips to the Caribbean in 2007 and 2008.

The House Ethics Panel is also looking into a host of other complaints, including failing to pay taxes on vacation property.

On Wednesday, Rangel announced that he was stepping down as chairman so his colleagues wouldn't have to defend him during their elections. He refused to answer reporter questions.

"I know that all of you have a professional obligation to ask questions," he said. "But I'm afraid if I went down that road it would distract me in terms of completion of the president's health bill."

The 20-term congressman has played a key role in President Obama's attempts to pass an historic health care reform bill.

Rangel plans to resume his post after the investigations are over. In the mean time, Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark of California may succeed him as the committee chair.

Republican leaders say Rangel should not be in a leadership roll at all.

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