The Obama campaign is denying House Ways and Means Chairman Charles B. Rangel a speaking role at this month’s Democratic National Convention — a move those close to the powerhouse Harlem congressman view as a spiteful snub.
Rangel surrogates approached Obama staffers this week about the possibility of securing him a slot at the podium, making the case that it would showcase reconciliation between the nominee and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s African-American supporters.
But they were told that the 78-year-old congressman’s support for Clinton earned him a place at the end of the line behind Barack Obama’s loyalists — even if Rangel played a crucial part in prodding Clinton to abandon her presidential bid in June.
“It’s crazy. … This man [Rangel] controls tax policy in the United States. He’s a lot bigger than just a regular member of Congress. He deserves more respect than this,” said a Rangel confidant. “Basically they have told us they can’t help us, that there are too many Obama supporters ahead of Charlie on the line.”
Responding to questions posed to the Obama press office, convention spokesperson Natalie Wyeth said: "We have a wealth of talent within our party and very limited speaking roles."
Rangel “is a team player and will support” Obama, the confidant said, but added “I can’t imagine that Charlie is happy about this.”
Another Rangel insider said the chairman — whose support is deemed essential if Obama wants to pass his tax reform agenda — is more aggravated than angry. But the famously blunt Korean War veteran is “way less than jazzed” about attending the convention and plans to spend only a day or two in Denver, the person added.
“This isn’t unexpected — Charlie is the New York face of Hillary Clinton,” said Baruch College politics professor Doug Muzzio. “There’s already an awful lot of Clinton in this convention and Charlie would have been a bit too much.”
Obama’s nearly unanimous support among blacks nationwide has made securing the support of elder statesmen like Rangel less important — and the New York Times' recent investigation into Rangel’s access to spacious apartments in Harlem at below-market rents hasn’t gone unnoticed in Obama’s Chicago headquarters.
A Rangel spokesman had no comment.
The dean of New York’s congressional delegation sparred sporadically with Obama during the primaries — most notably describing Obama’s comments about the historical roles played by Martin Luther King Jr. and Lyndon Baines Johnson as “absolutely stupid.”
But he also played a critical, perhaps decisive role, in convincing the former first lady to bow out gracefully during an early June conference call with House members. And he’s been glowing in his praise of the party’s first African-American nominee after Clinton withdrew on June 7.