(CNN) — Rep. Charlie Rangel, the longtime House Democrat already mired in possible ethics violations, is facing a new round of fire Saturday after describing Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin as "disabled."
Interviewed by New York television station WCBS Friday evening, the powerful New York congressman was asked why Democrats appear "afraid" of Palin.
"You got to be kind to the disabled," Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, responded in an answer the reporter interviewing him later called "astonishing."
Rangel later repeated the comment, adding, "There's no question about it — Politically it's a nightmare to think that a person's foreign policy is based on their ability to look at Russia from where they live."
Republicans, who have already been highly critical of Rangel over his failure to report taxes on income from his Dominican Republic beach house, are seizing on the comments.
"As if achieving new ethical lows was not sufficient, now Rangel is hitting a rhetorical low. Insulting the next vice president will not distract from Rangel's tax scandals," Republican National Committee Spokesman Alex Conant said.
Rangel reported paying $10,800 in back taxes Friday, according to the Associated Press, and complained that Republicans were waging a "guerrilla war" against him.
Shortly after the interview aired Friday night, Rangel issued a statement say his words were "misinterpreted."
"Sometimes in the heat of a political campaign you choose words that can be misinterpreted," he said. "Governor Palin is an obviously healthy person who in no way fits the description of disabled. I meant to say then, and I am saying now, that she entered the campaign with a disadvantage in the area of foreign policy."
Rangel was a supporter of Hillary Clinton's White House bid, but endorsed Obama immediately after the last round of primary contests in June.