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Relief for some Florida Democrats: Rangel steps aside

Charles Rangel, the embattled chair of the House Ways and Means committee, said today he'll temporarily step down from his leadership post -- sparing Democrats the embarrassment of voting today on a Republican resolution to force him down.

The House ethics committee last week admonished the Harlem Democrat for violating House rules by taking corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean in 2007 and 2008. Republicans were highlighting his leadership role to hammer House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her vow to run a clean Congress and a number of Democrats had called for Rangel to step down. Others have returned his campaign contributions.

Democrat Maurice Ferre got into the act yesterday, calling on his primary rival, Rep. Kendrick Meek "to join his Democratic colleagues" and return Rangel money. Meek on Wednesday called Rangel's departure a good move: "The legislative issues before the committee and the congress are too critical to allow for any distraction. I know this wasn't an easy decision but it was the right one."

The House ethics panel is still investigating several Rangel issues, including his failure to pay federal taxes on rental income from a villa in the Dominican Republic.