GOP lawmaker backs Dem push for Trump tax returns
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) signed on this week to a Democratic procedural effort to force a vote on legislation that would require President Trump to make his tax returns public, making him the first Republican to back the effort.

Trump broke with long-standing precedent during the 2016 presidential race by refusing to release his tax returns. Trump claimed that he can't publish his returns because they're under audit, but the IRS has said an audit doesn't prevent personal tax information from being made public.

In response, Democrats launched a procedure known as a discharge petition last month on Rep. Anna Eshoo’s (D-Calif.) bill requiring presidents and presidential candidates to provide their last three years of federal income tax returns to the Office of Government Ethics or the Federal Election Commission.

Those agencies would then make the tax returns available to the public. If a president or candidate refuses to disclose their tax returns, the agencies would have to ask for the returns from the IRS.

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Three other Republicans have co-sponsored the underlying legislation: Reps. Mark Sanford (S.C.), Justin AmashJustin AmashGOP lawmaker backs Dem push for Trump tax returns The Hill's 12:30 Report The Memo: GOP talk of impeachment highlights Trump’s troubles MORE (Mich.) and Ted YohoTed YohoWhy global health investments are key ‘Making America Great’ Overnight Defense: Trump scolds NATO allies over spending | Flurry of leaks worries allies | Senators rip B Army 'debacle' | Lawmakers demand hearing on Saudi arms deal Lawmakers demand hearing on Saudi arms sale MORE (Fla.). None have signed onto the discharge petition, however, and Republicans typically don’t endorse Democratic procedural efforts.

Democrats have been forcing near-weekly votes since late February on resolutions to direct the House Ways and Means Committee to ask the IRS for Trump’s tax returns, most recently on Wednesday.

Jones has voted with Democrats on all of those resolutions, but Sanford has voted “present” because he disagrees with the procedural method despite believing Trump should release his tax returns.

Discharge petitions must get 218 signatures to trigger a vote on the House floor. It’s a tool frequently used by the minority party to draw attention to an issue but is rarely effective.

The discharge petition for Eshoo's bill currently has 191 signatures, meaning it needs at least 27 more endorsements to move forward. It's unlikely enough Republicans would sign onto the effort.

The last time a discharge petition resulted in a floor vote was in 2015, when enough Republicans joined with Democrats to bring up legislation to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank despite objections from the committee chairman of jurisdiction, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) of the Financial Services panel.

Before that, a discharge petition had last been successful in 2002 to bring up campaign finance reform legislation. 

Jones, who’s served in the House since 1995, frequently bucks GOP leaders on a range of issues. He also signed a Democratic discharge petition on Wednesday to push for a vote on legislation to establish an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election.