Democrats Begin Efforts to Curb Post-Trump Presidential Powers

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WASHINGTON — House Democrats plan to introduce a package of proposed new limits on executive power on Tuesday, starting a post-Trump push to strengthen controls on the presidency, which they hope will equate to the revisions announced. followed the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War.

Democrats have spent months negotiating with the Biden White House to fine-tune a wide range of proposals that amount to a point-by-point rebuke of the ways Donald J. Trump shattered standards over the course of his presidency. The Democrats have bundled numerous bills into a package they call the Protecting Our Democracy Act.

The legislation would make it more difficult for presidents to pardon or pardon situations that raise suspicions of corruption, refuse to respond to subpoenas, spend money or secretly freeze in violation of Congressional appropriations, and inspectors- fire a general or retaliate against whistleblowers, among many other changes.

The bill’s lead sponsor, California Democrat Representative Adam B. Schiff, said he hoped it would get a ground vote “this fall.”

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

But supporters noted that Republican senators previously supported important parts of the bill, such as requiring the Justice Department to pass logs of contacts with White House officials and limiting a president’s ability to make a national statement. declare a state of emergency and spend money in ways Congress did not approve.

Supporters said they expected the package to go into the Senate piecemeal, with different parts to different bills.

“Many of the elements of the Protecting Our Democracy Act have received significant Republican support in the Senate before, and we believe they will as part of other legislation there,” said Soren Dayton, a policy attorney with the Protect Democracy group. who consulted with legislators on the text of the bill and is promoting.

For now, while proponents first try to get the measures through the House, Democrats are framing it squarely as a response to Trump’s presidency.

Mr. Trump’s demonstration that a president can routinely disregard previous standards of self-control in office “has really put our republic on a very weak foot,” Mr. Schiff said in an interview. “Our democracy is turning out to be much more fragile than we thought, and this is an attempt to put into law what we thought was already mandatory.”

Commissioned by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the bill puts together components developed by numerous legislators and parliamentary committees.

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

For example, supporters of the legislation cited an episode in which a Trump White House aide, Kellyanne Conway, was cited by an independent agency for flagrant violations of that law. The Trump administration ignored the agency’s request to impose sanctions on it, dismissing the finding as “bla bla.”

Other sections deal with issues that were unclear before the Trump era. For example, one section proposes strengthening the Constitution’s prohibition on taking “emoluments” or payments from presidents by declaring in law that the anti-corruption ban extends to commercial transactions and making it easier to enforce that rule.

Mr Trump’s refusal to divest his hotels and resorts has raised the question of whether lobby groups and… foreign governments that started paying for numerous rooms at Trump properties — and sometimes didn’t even use them – tried to buy his favor.

Another proposal would address an issue that arose last November when a Trump-appointed person who headed the General Services Administration refused to formally “confirm” that Mr. Biden was the president-elect. That failure to take a previously routine step prevented Mr Biden’s transition staff from receiving briefings from agencies his new administration was about to take over, hampering an orderly transfer of power.

To avoid a recurrence, the bill states that if the head of the General Services Administration does not make a decision 10 days after the election, both campaigns can be transferred.

Mr Schiff introduced a version of the bill in October 2020 to send a political message to the election. Democrats plan to pass the legislation this time, and spent months negotiating with the White House over elements that administration officials feared would infringe on the traditional prerogatives of the executive branch.

House Democrats made some changes to the previous version in response to concerns raised by aides to Mr Biden while letting others in, according to people familiar with those negotiations.

The House dropped a proposal to require the White House to pardon its internal communications with the president to Congress, raising concerns about executive privileges. But it perpetuated another idea that the administration would have objected to, requiring the Justice Department to hand over its investigation files on leniency recipients.

Lawmakers also narrowed down a proposal to make executive branch officials pay all court fines for defying subpoenas out of pocket. The revised bill excludes cases where presidents had written appeals to administrative law and instructed subordinates not to abide by the rules.

The government is also said to have expressed concerns about a proposal to speed up judicial review of congressional subpoenas. Lawmakers added a provision requiring Congress to show a court in such lawsuits that it had made good faith efforts to negotiate a compromise.

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

A White House spokesman has previously said the administration broadly supports most provisions “to restore the crash barriers” to American democracy, while promising to work with Congress on the details.

Many parts have already been the subject of hearings or “flagged” with amendments in a committee, and it is not clear whether Ms Pelosi will need further action from a committee – and if so, which ones – or when she will come to the floor of the house.

In a statement, Ms Pelosi called the legislation “a robust, transformative package of democratic reforms that will restore democratic norms and institutions and provide essential safeguards to prevent a president, regardless of party, from abusing public trust or violating our democracy.” . .”

Democrats have also worked with various advocacy groups to develop, they hope, at least some bipartisan support. The groups include Stand Up America, which was founded after 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 to promote the bill, including on Facebook; to disseminate explanations of the bill to members of the parliamentary group; and asking them to write letters to the editor and call lawmakers.

“Our plan is to engage our two million members and build a grassroots pressure campaign to help this cross the finish line,” said Mr. Eldridge.

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