Washington - When a reporter asked embattled Rep. Charles Rangel if his trial on ethics charges would hurt other Democrats, he shrugged and said, "Pain is pain."
But when a House ethics panel lays out the charges against him Thursday, the pain won't be just Rangel's.
Some of the most powerful people in America will wince with him - and hope he beats the rap.
Among them are House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and a throng of fans at the White House.
"Charlie has friends up and down Pennsylvania Ave.," a White House source said.
And while at least one Democrat has called on Rangel to step down for the sake of the party - Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio) - he stood firm yesterday.
"Well, it wouldn't be the American thing to do [to step aside]. I think I owe it to the process to find out first what the investigative committee finds out," Rangel told reporters after speaking at Harlem Hospital.
Most Democrats, and many Republicans, see the 80-year-old Harlem Democrat and Korean War vet as likeable and extremely effective.
"When he walks into a room, you know he's the guy, he's just the guy, and that's what Charlie is to our delegation," said 11-term Rep. Jose Serrano (D-Bronx).
"Charlie is the man around whom we all gathered," added Rep. Eliot Engel (D-Bronx).
From his 40 years in the House, Rangel also is unsurpassed in knowing how to work the system.