Tuesday, June 8, 2010
BY Kathleen Lucadamo
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Sunday, June 6th 2010, 4:00 AM
Rep. Charles Rangel compared President Obama to former Vice President Dick Cheney Saturday for their shared commitment to the Iraq War, one the Harlem Democrat argues is based on the country's hunger for oil.
"I challenge anyone to tell me we aren't there because of the oil," said Rangel, who kicks off his re-election campaign for a 21st congressional term in Washington Heights Sunday.
"The lack of an honest explanation [for the war] is consistent with Bush and Cheney," he told the Daily News during an hour-long interview that touched on his ongoing ethics probe, relationship with the President and ability to get work done in Washington.
A Korean War hero, Rangel criticized the Obama White House for staying in Bush-triggered wars, saying, "We are trying to buy our friends there ... stuff like that makes Cheney look good."
It's not the first time the two have tangled.
When Obama asked Gov. Paterson not to run for re-election last fall, Rangel said the move was "not presidential." The interference without Rangel's consent was considered a slap against the legendary New York lawmaker.
They have since had a "very pleasant exchange" about the incident, according to Rangel, who added, "I have no reason to believe it will ever happen again in my district or my state."
Rangel, who turns 80 this week, insists he can still get work done in Washington despite giving up his powerful chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee after ethics honchos scolded him for cashing in on Caribbean junkets.
The feds haven't completed their investigation of him, which includes charges of unreported income and tax fraud.
"I don't know what they are going to report. Just because they are taking a long time reaching a conclusion doesn't mean I should stop my public service," he said.
Rangel is relying on his popularity in Harlem and Washington Heights, where residents still regularly shake his hand when he walks down the street, to secure another term.
"I get a sense the people really don't think I've been treated fairly," said Rangel.
But for the first time in 16 years, he faces challengers, including state Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV, whose dad held the Harlem seat until he was beaten by Rangel in 1970.
Rangel's foes have already said his scandals make him unfit to serve. He dismisses them.
"I don't know how many opponents I have. So far, nobody's filed," said Rangel.
He says he has enough clout - as a senior member of Congress with the ear of Speaker Nancy Pelosi - to get work done in Washington, ticking off tax reform, climate control and improving education as his top goals.
Despite his differences with Obama on the war, he praised the President's handling of the broken economy, the BP oil spill and described him as politically savvy.
As for Obama's sinking approval ratings, Rangel said, "We had perhaps higher expectations than we should have."