Rangel has ‘no idea’ how Obama avoids a debt-ceiling negotiation, but he wants to see it

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Rangel in his Harlem office. (Reid Pillifant)
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Charlie Rangel hopes President Obama is serious about not negotiating with House Republicans over the debt ceiling, even if Rangel isn't quite clear how that will work.

"I have no idea what that means, but I'm going to be a spectator for that one, I'm going to have a front row seat," Rangel said in an afternoon meeting with local reporters at his Harlem office.

"But I can't run around telling those Republicans in Washington that he's not going to negotiate with you, when they're running around saying, 'Blood, blood, blood, blood, blood.'"

Rangel was responding, in typically expansive fashion, to a question about whether he thought the president had the constitutional authority to pay the nation's debts, regardless of whether Congress raises the debt ceiling.

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The constitutional basis, which is very much in doubt, comes from a clause in the Fourteenth Amendment that says "the validity of the public debt...shall not be questioned." 

Democrats have started to warm to that alternative in recent days, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi suggesting it as a viable option, followed by a letter from several Senate Democrats this afternoon, requesting that the president take "any lawful steps" to avoid defaulting.

"I want the president to do the right thing, but I don't see how it can be unconstitutional," Rangel said of the Fourteenth Amendment solution. "You can't tell a person that he has a constitutional responsibility to protect the investments in our great country and then at the same time find a handful of people, who for no other reason than their own selfish political reasons, at the expense of our country and our Constitution."

But Rangel noted the president had already dismissed the idea.

"I'd be proud of the president if he found constitutional support that he believed in," Rangel said. "I'd say right on."

Asked about the fanciful, but not entirely ruled out, idea that the president could simply mint a trillion-dollar coin, Rangel made a joke.

"I'm working on the design: One for the president, one for me," he said.

A reporter asked if that meant he would like to have his face on the coin.

"No, I want one of the coins," Rangel said. "The president gets one, he puts it in the Treasury. I get one, I keep it. Makes sense to me."