Schiff and Pelosi push bill to limit presidential power with laundry list of Trump complaints
H ouse Democrats introduced legislation on Tuesday that aims to curb presidential powers by addressing a laundry list of issues and complaints that came up during former President Donald Trump’s norm-shattering presidency.
“Donald Trump made this legislation a necessity, but this is bigger than about any one particular president,” said California Rep. Adam Schiff, the lead sponsor of the Protecting Our Democracy Act. “The former president trampled many of our sacred norms and institutions, violating laws and breaking long-standing precedent with shocking ease.”
Sweeping reforms in the bill adjust requirements and restrictions regarding compliance with congressional subpoenas and pardons, the independence of inspectors general, and transitions in presidential administrations, among other measures.
In one sense, the bill marks an acknowledgment by the House that presidential power has expanded too much over the last several decades.
“There's been a slow movement, but it picked up steam” under Trump, said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “Our founders in their wisdom to have checks and balances and separation of power, and they had guardrails for the president. And one of them was the Congress of the United States.”
Almost all of the bill’s many provisions have some connection to a scandal or frustration that surfaced during Trump’s presidency.
The bill would make the president and vice president eligible to be criminally charged, taking aim at long-standing Department of Justice policy stating that the president cannot be indicted while in office. That made impeachment the only remedy to punish Trump after he was accused of obstructing special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Presidential and vice presidential candidates would be required to release 10 years of personal tax returns under the bill, something Trump never did.
It would also prohibit presidential “self-pardons” — a topic that Trump reportedly explored. And in aiming to curb pardons being used as a form of bribery, it would define a pardon as a “thing of value.” The Department of Justice would also be required to provide Congress with materials relating to presidential pardons of relatives or face charges of contempt of Congress or obstruction of Congress.
And in response to the Trump administration stonewalling President Joe Biden’s transition team as the former president fought to overturn the election, the bill would require the administrator of General Services to treat each eligible presidential candidate as a winner, if no winner can be ascertained five days after the general election, until an ascertainment is made or a winner is certified by Congress.
Congressional Democrats communicated with the White House while crafting this session’s version of the legislation and made some changes accordingly.
“We made changes, for example, to some of the provisions that individually penalize people for refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas,” Schiff said. “President Biden has acknowledged the central importance of these kinds of reforms both in his campaign and during his presidency.”
Schiff said he expects a vote on the bill sometime this fall but demurred when asked about his communications with Republicans and the bill’s chances of getting support from 10 Senate Republicans in order to overcome a filibuster in the upper chamber.
“One step at a time,” Schiff said.
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