Trump-Inspired Ethics Overhaul Set for Debate and Votes in House

  • Rep. Schiff says bill would restore democratic ‘guardrails’
  • Republicans oppose the extensive ethics and oversight measure

House lawmakers are set to debate Thursday whether presidential candidates’ tax returns should be posted online, threats to election officials tracked, and White House salaries posted on a special website.

The proposals are among more than two dozen amendments to a wide-ranging ethics and oversight bill that Democratic leaders shoehorned into the final legislative days of the year, as battles over defense policy, vaccine mandates, and the debt limit have dominated the congressional headlines.

Democrats said the bill (H.R. 5314) seeks to adjust the relative powers of the president and Congress to close legal gaps exposed by Donald Trump’s presidency. Its sponsor, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who led Trump’s first impeachment trial, said in an email that it would “help restore the guardrails of our democratic institutions so that no future administration—Democratic or Republican—can exploit the same weaknesses.”

Despite its bipartisan targets, Republicans made clear during a Rules Committee meeting Tuesday that they’re putting up a fight. It’s still likely to pass the House, but it’s sure to stall in the Senate, where other Democratic elections and ethics proposals have been blocked by Republican filibusters.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the Rules panel’s ranking member, said during the meeting that Democrats are overreaching with a bill covering too many subjects and “wasting time talking about the former president.” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said in testimony that the bill is “just an excuse for Mr. Schiff to keep talking about debunked conspiracy theories” regarding Trump.

Photographer: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is sponsoring an ethics and oversight bill.

Read More: Bipartisan Groups Urge Congress to Curb Executive Branch Power

The bill, titled the Protecting Our Democracy Act (PODA), comes as Trump continues to indicate he’ll run for president again and as Democrats continue to wage legal battles with him over records and testimony dealing with the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. It also comes just ahead of the 2022 midterm election year, when Democrats want to tout accomplishments as they seek to retain control of the House and Senate.

House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) told the Rules Committee the legislation was “a sweeping package of reforms, many of which have received support from both Democrats and Republicans in the past, that will restore our system of checks and balances.” The measure would ensure that “no president is above the law,” she said.

Among its many provisions, one would require courts to expedite cases involving congressional subpoenas, which could help Congress in its ongoing battle with Trump associates who are refusing to cooperate with the House committee investigating Jan. 6. It would also strengthen laws barring foreign influence in elections and require reporting of White House contacts with the Justice Department.

Path Forward

“A significant obstacle in any reform of executive power is getting buy-in from the executive,” said Soren Dayton, a lobbyist for the nonprofit Protect Democracy who’s worked for former Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and other Republicans. Biden served in Congress longer than any president in history, Dayton noted, and “his administration is fulfilling his legacy by offering support to substantial reforms.”

The White House hasn’t yet indicated its position on this bill. Schiff said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other House Democratic leaders are in discussions with the Biden administration and the Senate “about the urgent need to pass these reforms and the best way forward to ensure our democracy will stand strong for future generations.”

Craig Holman of liberal nonprofit Public Citizen, one of more than a dozen groups in a broad coalition supporting the measure, said the bill is likely to be broken up in the Senate, with provisions “that enjoy some measure of bipartisan support—such as reasserting congressional involvement over declarations of war and national emergencies—moving forward.”

Some are already moving on a bipartisan basis in the Senate, including a measure to increase protections for inspectors general, which the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee recently approved as a stand-alone measure. Other provisions that have previously been backed by Republicans include requiring reports when appropriated funds are spent and limiting the president’s use of an emergency declaration to circumvent congressional spending decisions—as Trump did to free up funds to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at kdoyle@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kyle Trygstad at ktrygstad@bloombergindustry.com; Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com

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