Dems vow to grab Trump tax returns upon taking majority

Democrats are vowing to get their hands on President TrumpDonald John TrumpRussia's election interference is a problem for the GOP Pence to pitch trade deal during trip to Michigan: report Iran oil minister: US made 'bad mistake' in ending sanctions waivers MORE’s tax returns if they are able to win back the House majority in November.

“I’m definitely going to bring it up if we don’t have them by then — that’s a definite,” Rep. Bill PascrellWilliam (Bill) James PascrellOn The Money: Conservatives rally behind Moore for Fed | White House interviewing other candidates | Trump, Dems spar on Tax Day | Budget watchdogs bemoan 'debt denialism' Dems, Trump harden 2020 battle lines on Tax Day Trump lawyer disputes Dem rationale for requesting tax returns MORE (D-N.J.), a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, told The Hill. 

The Democrats contend existing law empowers the tax-writing committees to access a president's tax history. If the House flips, they say they’ll use their gavels to move swiftly to do just that. 

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“I don’t think there’s any question about it,” said Rep. John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthDivided Dems look to regroup On The Money — Presented by Job Creators Network — GOP senators urge Trump not to nominate Cain | Treasury expected to miss Dem deadline on Trump tax returns | Party divisions force Dems to scrap budget vote | House passes IRS reform bill Left-center divide forces Dems to scrap budget vote MORE (D-Ky.), the ranking member of the House Budget Committee.

Rep. Judy ChuJudy May ChuDems plot next move in Trump tax-return battle Trump lawyer disputes Dem rationale for requesting tax returns Dogfighting victims need the HEART Act to find their way home MORE (D-Calif.), another Ways and Means member, said that “of course” the Democrats will fight for the returns if they take the gavel.

“That’s part of cleaning up Washington, D.C.,” Chu said, referring to a central promise of Democrats on the campaign trail this year. “The appetite is there.”

Trump’s business holdings include stakes in more than 500 separate businesses spanning the globe, according to his financial disclosures

In urging greater transparency, Democrats contend the public is entitled to learn where the money lies, where the debts are owed and whether the president’s vast empire poses any conflicts of interest, particularly amid the ongoing probe into Russia’s election interference and potential collusion with the Trump campaign team.

“The American public has the right to know whether or not a president is serving his interests or the public’s interests,” said Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerJulián Castro: Trump should be impeached for trying to obstruct justice 'in very concrete ways' Dems seek to rein in calls for impeachment Democrats leave impeachment on the table MORE (D-Md.), the minority whip.  

“I think that’s something that was pretty well accepted before this president came along.”

Trump, the first president since Richard Nixon to refuse to disclose his tax history as a White House candidate, says an ongoing IRS audit prevents such a release — an argument the IRS itself has refuted. 

Democrats have repeatedly sought to force Trump to disclose his returns, only to be brushed aside by the majority Republicans, who have argued the need to protect the privacy of their ally in the White House.

“My belief is that if Congress begins to use its powers to rummage around in the tax returns of the president, what prevents Congress from doing the same to average Americans?” Rep. Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradySocial Security won't be able to fund full payouts by 2035 Treasury to miss Dem deadline for Trump tax returns Treasury expected to miss Dem deadline on Trump tax returns MORE (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in 2017.

Democrats say they need the returns to figure out if Trump has any personal financial ties that could potentially sway his decisionmaking as commander in chief. 

Democrats have forced votes seeking Trump’s returns, both on the floor and within the Ways and Means Committee, which oversees tax policy. The Republicans have been near-unanimous in rejecting those efforts. Rep. Walter JonesWalter Beaman JonesNorth Carolina reporter says there could be 'new crop' of GOP candidates in 9th Congressional District race House pays tribute to Walter Jones GOP leader presses Trump to agree to border deal MORE (R-N.C.), a frequent Trump critic, has been the only Republican to join the Democrats in voting to secure the documents. Rep. Mark SanfordMarshall (Mark) Clement SanfordTrump keeps tight grip on GOP Endorsing Trump isn’t the easiest decision for some Republicans Mark Sanford warns US could see ‘Hitler-like character’ in the future MORE (R-S.C.), another Trump detractor, has repeatedly voted “present” on those measures.

Pascrell, who’s led the charge for the Democrats, is hoping to access the documents by tapping an obscure, century-old law passed to confront a series of scandals dogging the Harding administration in the 1920s.

Passed in 1924, the statute empowers the chairs of the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee and the Joint Committee on Taxation to access anyone’s tax returns — including the president’s — and share their findings with the full committees behind closed doors. The panels could then vote to release all, or parts, of the returns to the public.

“You don’t just get the tax returns and send them out there to the public,” Pascrell explained.

Pascrell said he won’t stop with Trump. He also wants to see the tax history of certain Cabinet members. He named Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Flint residents can sue EPA over water crisis | Environmentalists see victory with Green New Deal blitz | March global temperatures were second hottest on record | EPA told to make final decision on controversial pesticide Court orders EPA to make final decision on banning controversial pesticide Former EPA chief Scott Pruitt registers as lobbyist in Indiana MORE, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Trump moves to crack down on Iranian oil exports | Florida lawmakers offer bill to ban drilling off state's coast | Bloomberg donates .5M to Paris deal Florida lawmakers offer bill to ban drilling off state's coast Overnight Energy: Gillibrand offers bill to ban pesticide from school lunches | Interior secretary met tribal lawyer tied to Zinke casino dispute | Critics say EPA rule could reintroduce asbestos use MORE, secretary of the Interior Department, as two figures meriting particular scrutiny. 

Pascrell, who in the minority has forced more than a dozen votes on the issue, acknowledges it won’t be easy to force Trump’s hand even if Democrats win the House majority.

“Is it a slam-dunk to get them? No,” he said. “But this is the business.”

The Democrats appear to be anticipating a court battle over the release of the returns with a president whose long business career is strewn with litigation aimed at keeping his business interests private.

Rep. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealOvernight Health Care: Social Security won't be able to fund full payouts by 2035 | Drug companies under scrutiny from Congress boost lobbying | US on pace to break record for measles cases On The Money: Cain withdraws from Fed consideration | Says he didn't want 'pay cut' | Trump sues to block subpoena for financial records | Dems plot next move in Trump tax-return battle Social Security won't be able to fund full payouts by 2035 MORE (D-Mass.), who’s in line for the Ways and Means gavel if the House flips, has been cautious in approaching the issue. Earlier in the summer, he told The Hill that, while he’s interested in oversight, he intends to focus first on pocket-book issues like health care, middle-class tax relief and shoring up retirement programs.

“There will be plenty of time in the future to determine if this course of action is necessary,” he said at the time.

Chu has proposed a second strategy for getting access to Trump’s returns. She wants legislation requiring all presidents to release their tax history.

It’s unlikely, however, that such legislation would pass in the next Congress even if Democrats score an upset and win back the majority in both chambers. That's because winning the 60 votes necessary to break a Senate filibuster is likely out of reach.

As a result, Chu says, “the Ways and Means method would be a better way to do it.”

If the issue does come to a vote under a Democratic majority, lawmakers say there’s no doubt the measure would pass the House — which would at least elevate the issue on the national stage ahead of the 2020 elections. 

“I can’t see a Democrat voting against it,” said Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaButtigieg responds to criticism after comparing Sanders, Trump supporters Environmentalists see victory with Green New Deal blitz Hillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech MORE (D-Calif.).

Hoyer seconded that prediction, saying: “If we’re in charge and it’s a vote of the House, I will tell you my expectation would be that the House would vote to release [the documents] to the public.”

One sliver of Trump’s tax history has emerged since he took office. In March of 2017, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow obtained his 2005 returns revealing that the billionaire businessman had paid $38 million in taxes that year on earnings topping $150 million. The source of the documents was former New York Times journalist David Cay Johnston, who after receiving the records anonymously did not rule out the possibility that Trump himself had leaked them.

Richard Painter, a former ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush and a frequent Trump critic, said that Democrats aren’t the only group interested in the president’s tax returns. He surmised that Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE, the special council leading the probe into Russian election interference, has already got them. 

“It appears that they’re closing in on the basic financial structure of the Trump Organization,” Painter told MSNBC last month. “Perhaps the reasons why he’s not disclosing his tax returns. And what we may find there is really quite ugly.”

Rep. Danny DavisDaniel (Danny) K. DavisRestore Pell Grant eligibility to people in prison Pelosi joins other Dem leaders in support of Chicago Symphony Orchestra strikers Democrats must stand up for Israel MORE (D-Ill.), another senior member of the Ways and Means panel, said Trump is embroiled in so many scandals that releasing the returns — whatever they contain — likely wouldn’t affect the president’s standing one way or another. Still, he wants the documents released in order to set a precedent for future presidents.

“I don’t think people care much at this juncture what the president does,” Davis said. “But I do think that people are concerned about the future of the government, and the operation of government, after the president is gone.”