AP Photo/Patrick Semansky President Donald Trump hugs his family after taking the oath of office during the 58th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Friday, January 20, 2017. A s of 12:01 p.m. today, Donald J. Trump is officially the 45th president of the United States—and a campaign to impeach him is already underway. In the wake of ethical concerns about his failure to divest from his business operations, experts say that Trump is now in violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause—which prohibits government officials from receiving personal payment from foreign governments—and could be violating other laws as well. Today, a concerted lobbying effort is starting up, aiming to convince a majority of members of the House of Representatives to vote for a resolution that would order the House Judiciary Committee to launch an investigation into whether there are grounds—based on those ethical concerns—for the impeachment of President Trump. The democracy advocacy...
(Photo: AP/Carolyn Kaster) Treasury Secretary-designate Steven Mnuchin in Trump Tower in November. A s the confirmation hearing for Treasury Secretary-designate Steven Mnuchin gets started, there will be ample scrutiny—and rightfully so—of OneWest, the neighborhood-eviscerating foreclosure machine that he headed. But as the person on the verge of setting the new administration’s tax policy, Mnuchin should also be questioned about his pledge that “there will be no absolute tax cut for the upper class,” which he made on CNBC back in November. “ Any reductions we have in upper-income taxes will be offset by less deductions, so there will be no absolute tax cut for the upper class,” he said. “There will be a big tax cut for the middle class, but any tax cuts we have for the upper class will be offset by less deductions that pay for it.” With this statement, he created a clear standard—the “Mnuchin test”—by which to hold the Trump administration: Any tax reform that comes to Trump’s desk...
(Photo: AP/Tom Williams) Vice President-elect Mike Pence, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Speaker Paul Ryan, and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise laughing after a meeting of the House Republican Conference in September. L ast week, the Republican-controlled Senate and House began the first steps in repealing President Obama’s landmark Affordable Care Act, with no semblance of a real replacement plan in sight. Health-care coverage for the roughly 20 million Americans who gained access under Obamacare is now in serious jeopardy—a life-threatening prospect for many. Beyond that, the cost of repeal (without a replacement) is astronomical. A new report from the Congressional Budget Office, which scored the costs of the Republicans’ 2015 repeal, found that 18 million people would lose their insurance within the first year, and premiums for all would climb by as much 25 percent. After the elimination of Medicaid expansion and insurance subsidies, the number of uninsured would increase...
(Photo: AP/Jacquelyn Martin) U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue speaks at the State of American Business 2015 event in Washington. The mood was jubilant in the headquarters of the United States Chamber of Commerce, an impressive stone building that looms across the street from the White House, as longtime president Tom Donohue made his annual “ State of American Business ” address Wednesday morning. After eight years of a Democratic president who implemented, in the face of unprecedented levels of political opposition, a series of powerful industry regulations—from Obamacare and Dodd-Frank to the Clean Power Plan, the fiduciary rule, and a new overtime threshold—the GOP has secured full control of the federal government. And the Chamber of Commerce could not be more excited. “We see a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enact major reforms that could transform the American economy from a low-growth to a high-growth economy,” Donohue pronounced to a room packed...
On Wednesday morning, Donald Trump held a long-awaited press conference to address how he will deal with the potential conflicts of interest posed by his massive business empire. For weeks, ethics watchdogs have called on the president-elect to fully divest from his business operations and place them in a blind trust.
Trump ignored those demands, announcing that he will retain ownership of his businesses, which his sons will oversee in a trust. To address concerns about possible violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, Trump said that he will donate all of earnings from hotel bookings made by foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury. (Sheri Dillon, Trump’s attorney has argued that his hotel holdings do not violate the Emoluments Clause.)
Trump continued to insist that none these measures were required by law and that he was making these moves voluntarily. “[My sons] are going to be running it in a very professional manner. They’re not going to discuss it with me. Again, I don’t have to do this. They’re not going to discuss it with me,” Trump said.
In response, House Democrats plan to launch a “Democracy Reform Task Force” that aims to hold Trump accountable for conflicts of interest and ethical lapses. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has tapped Maryland Congressman John Sarbanes, a leading proponent of ethics reform, to head the task force.
Trump’s plan “doesn’t come close to solving the problems that these conflicts of interest present,” Sarbanes says in an interview with the Prospect. “This notion that giving it to his sons to look after is absurd as representing any real distancing from these conflicts.”
“Without fully divesting ownership, there’s no way to avoid potential for divided loyalties. When he goes to make a decision [as president], somewhere in his brain, if he still has business ownership, he’s got to be thinking if the decision as president will hurt or benefit his business,” Sarbanes adds.
While the Democrats’ new task force won’t have any formal power to investigate Trump, Sarbanes said that members will hold ethics forums around the country; provide resources to ranking Democrats on relevant committees; and highlight Democratic legislation—like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s bill that would require Trump to fully divest or Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin’s bill to ban “golden parachute” bonuses for private-sector executives entering public service—that address the ethical concerns of Trump’s administration. “[The task force] can be a very effective clearinghouse on this broad issue of accountability,” Sarbanes says.
Sarbanes hopes that the task force will serve as a rapid-response operation to deal with Trump administration ethics concerns as they emerge. He also wants to see the group organize campaigns like the one that public-interest organizations led in early January that generated a flood of constituent calls to House Republicans after news broke that they planned to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics. The calls were widely credited with forcing Republicans to back off the plan.
The Democrats’ ethics task force could become their primary tool for challenging the impending ethical dilemmas of the Trump administration, especially since they aren’t optimistic that congressional Republicans will monitor or rein in any new Trump conflicts that come to light.
Sarbanes is setting out to recruit members of the Democratic caucus to help articulate “nimble, timely” responses as needed while crafting an overarching message that Democrats are leading the way on holding Trump accountable. “We want to be in the middle of that conversation,” he says, adding “I don’t see that coming from the other side of the aisle.”
As part of, the House task force will also focus on other democracy and campaign-finance issues that are part of its larger “By the People” package and, further, will seek to “expose the GOP’s special-interest agenda.”