Dems spar with Transportation chief over Trump ban on info requests

Dems spar with Transportation chief over Trump ban on info requests
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House Democrats sparred with President Trump’s Transportation chief on Thursday over a controversial White House order to ignore oversight requests from the minority party.

A hearing that was supposed to be focused on Trump’s budget proposal grew heated when Democrats repeatedly pressed Secretary Elaine Chao on whether she would answer all of their oversight questions going forward.

The administration issued a memo earlier this year directing federal agencies to ignore oversight requests from lawmakers in the minority party unless they have approval from a committee or subcommittee chair. In practice, the policy gives Republicans the power to stop all Democratic requests for documents.

The policy is threatening to derail what could otherwise be a cordial and bipartisan relationship between Democrats and Chao, a veteran Cabinet member who is highly respected on both sides of the aisle.

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“The administration seems to be saying that Democratic oversight is illegitimate, that oversight is the prerogative of the majority party,” said Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), ranking member on the House Appropriations subcommittee on transportation, housing and urban development. “That’s a new level of partisanship that’s unprecedented. It’s unacceptable.”

Chao, who emphasized that she has always worked on a bipartisan basis during her long tenure in government, pointed out that prior administrations have followed a similar policy, saying the memo just “puts into writing what has always been the established precedent.”

“The executive branch has historically exercised its discretion in determining whether and how to respond” to oversight requests from the minority party, Chao said, reading directly from the memo.

But Price shot back that the policy has never been explicitly put into formal writing prior to the Trump administration.

“In my experience, in numerous administrations, I have never heard what you articulated made explicit,” he said. “The administration should be held accountable by this committee. That is the American system, the power of the purse.”

Chao promised to work with members from both parties whenever possible, but conceded that “there will be some issues on oversight that must come from the majority.”

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), ranking member on the full panel, said she was “shocked” by Chao’s response.

“I’ve known you a long time. I cannot believe that this is true,” Lowey said.  “Just say, 'Of course I'll respond to you.'"

Chao said she couldn’t make that promise, instead vowing to “try my best.”

Democrats continued to hammer Chao on the issue.

“I was really struck by your comments earlier, especially today, the day after such horrifying events and attacks on our colleagues yesterday,” said Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.).

Chao, appearing to grow frustrated, once again reiterated that the policy has been implemented by past administrations.

“What I’m not given credit for, and I’m not trying to anger anyone, especially after what happened yesterday… but this is established precedent. It is,” Chao said. “I’ve been in the government before.”