Pelosi, Democrats unveil bills to rein in alleged White House abuses of power

Leading House Democrats on Wednesday unveiled sweeping legislation empowering Congress with more muscular oversight and anti-corruption tools to rein in alleged presidential abuses — present and future.

Behind Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the Democrats are hoping to bolster the congressional checks on the executive branch, as outlined by the Constitution, including efforts to curb abuses of presidential pardons; prevent presidents from profiting personally from the office; and secure administrative compliance with congressional subpoenas.

The legislation has no chance of becoming law while Republicans control the Senate and President Trump remains in the White House. But it highlights the laundry list of abuse allegations Democrats have lodged against the president over the last four years — and provides Democrats with political ammunition as Congress prepares to leave Washington for the final sprint to the Nov. 3 elections.

“During this once-in-a-generation moment, the Congress has a sacred obligation for the people to defend the rule of law and restore accountability and basic ethics to the government. And that is exactly what we’re doing [with this package],” Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol.

“It is sad that the president’s actions have made this legislation necessary,” she added. “As with other things, he gives us no choice.”

Crafted by some of the Democrats’ top committee heads, the legislative package takes aim at the some of the most controversial episodes of Trump’s tenure.

One proposal would codify the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which bars presidents and other federal officials from accepting foreign gifts. Another would expedite the judicial process surrounding congressional subpoenas, which the administration has frequently disregarded leading to lengthy court proceedings.

“Congressional subpoenas are not requests that recipients can easily brush aside,” said Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), head of the House Ways and Means Committee. “They are indispensable as a tool that this body uses to investigate potential wrongdoing … and to prevent future abuses.”

The legislation would also lend new teeth to the Hatch Act — which bars federal officials from promoting political interests during their normal course of duties — by establishing fines of up to $50,000 for violations.

Another provision would strengthen Congress’s powers to dictate federal funding by applying penalties to executive officials who misappropriate taxpayer dollars for pet projects. Democrats have long accused Trump of abusing that power, including an incident when he tapped Pentagon funding to help build his wall at the Mexican border, and another when he withheld federal funding from Ukraine in an effort to get leaders in Kyiv to launch an investigation into his political opponents. The latter episode ultimately led to his impeachment.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a more brazen violator of the power of the purse than Donald Trump,” said Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), head of the House Budget Committee. “What’s made it worse is it’s not in advance of … some philosophical agenda, it’s his own personal political agenda.”

It’s unclear if the package will get a House vote this year, and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the Intelligence Committee chairman who led the Trump impeachment proceedings, suggested the dwindling legislative calendar would prevent such consideration before 2021.

Democrats are hoping Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, will defeat Trump in November and rally behind the reform package if the former vice president is in the White House next January.

“I think he will be a strong supporter of this package,” added Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who heads the House Oversight and Reform Committee, referring to Biden.

— Updated at 11:43 a.m.

Tags Adam Schiff Border wall Carolyn Maloney Donald Trump Donald Trump Impeachment Emoluments Clause Hatch Act Joe Biden John Yarmuth Nancy Pelosi Richard Neal Ukraine
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