Democrats start pushing to curb post-Trump presidential powers

WASHINGTON – House Democrats plan to introduce a set of proposed new limits on executive power on Tuesday, starting a post-Trump campaign to tighten presidential controls which they hope will be on par with revisions following the scandal of Watergate and the Vietnam War.

Democrats have spent months negotiating with Biden’s White House to refine a wide range of proposals that amount to a point-by-point rebuke of how Donald J. Trump broke standards during his presidency. Democrats have compiled many bills into a package they call the Protecting Our Democracy Act.

The legislation would make it more difficult for presidents to offer or bestow pardons in situations that raise suspicions of corruption, refuse to respond to subpoenas, secretly spend or freeze funds contrary to congressional appropriations, and inspectors generals fire or retaliate against whistleblowers, among many other changes.

The main sponsor of the legislation, Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, said he hoped he would receive a vote on the ground “this fall”.

While the bill would constrain President Biden and his successors, his implicit rebuke of Mr. Trump’s behavior in the White House could limit the number of Republicans willing to vote for him. Under Senate rules, at least 10 Republicans would have to support him for this chamber to vote on such a bill.

But supporters noted that Republican senators previously supported important elements of the bill, such as requiring the Justice Department to turn over contact logs with White House officials and restricting a president’s ability to declare a national emergency and spend the money in a way Congress has not approved.

Supporters said they expected the package to be considered piecemeal in the Senate, with different parties attached to other bills.

“Many elements of the Protecting Our Democracy Act have already received substantial Republican support in the Senate, and we believe they will again under other laws,” said Soren Dayton, policy advocate. within the Protect Democracy group, which consulted lawmakers on the text of the bill and promoted it.

For now, as supporters attempt to push the measures through the House first, Democrats are blatantly presenting them as a response to the Trump presidency.

Mr Trump’s demonstration that a president can systematically flout past standards of restraint in power “has really put our republic on a very precarious footing,” Schiff said in an interview. “Our democracy is proving to be much more fragile than we thought, and it is an effort to enact what we thought was already obligatory.”

On the instructions of President Nancy Pelosi, the bill compiles material developed by many legislators and House committees.

While many proposals have been circulating for years, they have taken on new urgency among Democrats and some Republicans amid the controversies of the Trump era.

For example, in pushing for a proposal to give more force to the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in election campaigns at work, supporters of the legislation cited an episode in which a Trump aide to White House Kellyanne Conway has been cited by an independent body for gross violations of this law. The Trump administration ignored the agency’s request to sanction it and called the finding a “blah blah blah.”

Other sections address issues that were obscure before the Trump era. One section, for example, proposes to strengthen the Constitution’s prohibition on presidents receiving “emoluments” or payments, declaring in law that the anti-corruption ban extends to business transactions and making it easier to do so. application of this rule.

Mr. Trump’s refusal to divest himself of his hotels and resorts has raised the question of whether the lobby groups and foreign governments that have started paying for many rooms at Trump’s properties – and sometimes even didn’t. not used – were trying to buy her favor.

Another proposal would solve a problem that arose last November, when a person Trump-appointed as head of the General Service Administration refused to formally “verify” that Mr. Biden was the president-elect. Failure to take a previously routine action prevented Mr Biden’s transitional staff from receiving information from the agencies his new administration was about to take over, hampering an orderly transition of power.

To avoid recurrence, the bill clarifies that if the head of the General Service Administration does not make a decision within five days of the election, the two campaigns can begin the transitions.

Mr Schiff presented a version of the bill in October 2020 to send a political message ahead of the elections. Democrats this time intend to pass the legislation and have spent months negotiating with the White House over issues that were concerned administration officials would infringe on traditional executive prerogatives.

House Democrats have made some tweaks to the previous version in response to concerns voiced by Mr. Biden’s aides while leaving others behind, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

The House dropped a proposal to require the White House to communicate to Congress its internal communications with the president about pardons, which raised issues of executive privilege. But he kept another idea that the administration would have opposed, forcing the Ministry of Justice to hand over its investigation files on the beneficiaries of leniency.

Lawmakers also scaled back a proposal to force executive officials to pay out of pocket any court fines for defying subpoenas. The revised bill will exclude cases where presidents, in writing, have invoked executive privilege and asked their subordinates not to comply.

The administration has also reportedly expressed concerns over a proposal to expedite the courts’ review of Congressional lawsuits over subpoenas. Lawmakers added a provision requiring Congress to show a court, in such trials, that it had made good faith efforts to negotiate a compromise.

But while the administration has also reportedly raised concerns about the separation of powers over a proposal to ban presidents from firing inspectors general without specific cause such as professional misconduct, House Democrats have reportedly ruled it out. have kept in the bill.

A White House spokesman has previously said the administration broadly supports most of the “reinstatement” provisions of American democracy, while pledging to work with Congress on the details.

Many items have already been the subject of committee hearings or “marked” for amendment, and it is not clear whether Ms. Pelosi will demand further action from a committee – and if so, which one. – or when she presents upstairs in the house.

In a statement, Pelosi called the legislation “a strong and transformative set of democratic reforms that will restore democratic norms and institutions and put in place essential safeguards to prevent any president, regardless of party, from abusing the law. public trust or to desecrate our democracy. “

Democrats have also coordinated with several advocacy groups to develop what they hope will at least be bipartisan support. Groups include Stand Up America, which was founded after Mr. Trump’s surprise victory in the 2016 election.

Its founder, Sean Eldridge, said in an interview that Stand Up America plans to run digital ads promoting the bill, including on Facebook; distribute the explanations of the bill to the members of the group; and ask them to write letters to the editor and call lawmakers.

“Our plan is to involve our two million members and put in place a grassroots lobbying campaign to help this get to the finish line,” Eldridge said.

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