Democrats move slowly on demand for Trump’s tax returns, despite vowing to tackle it right away – USA TODAY
WASHINGTON – House Democrats will hold their first hearing on presidential tax returns Thursday afternoon.
But even the hearing – a broad look at legislative proposals on presidential and vice presidential tax returns – is a cautious step on something Democrats have been salivating over for almost four years.
Democrats have been trying to get their hands on President Donald Trump’s tax returns since he flouted tradition and refused to release them during his presidential campaign. When he took office, Trump continued to keep them private. Vice President Mike Pence has released his documents.
Before the 2018 election, now-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told The San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board that requesting Trump’s tax returns “is one of the first things we’d do – that’s the easiest thing in the world. That’s nothing.”
But since taking back control of the House in January, Democrats have taken a cautious approach to obtaining the documents.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., is the only member of the chamber who can request the president’s tax returns. So far, he hasn’t done it.
Erin Hatch, a spokeswoman for the committee, said Neal expects that when he eventually does make the request, it could end up in an unprecedented court battle and he wants to be prepared.
“Chairman Neal is building a case in the event that the administration decides to disregard federal law,” she said.
“Our chairman Rich Neal, I think, has been very circumspect. I think leadership is about action, but it’s also about restraint,” said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., a member of the committee. “Will it occur? Absolutely. The question is when will it occur to maximize the effectiveness.”
Higgins said Neal has not specified a date to the committee that he would make the request, “but without question, both implicitly and implied, there will be a request at some point that he will make to get those tax returns.”
“At some point” may not be fast enough for some of the caucus’ most progressive members.
“I’d like to know exactly what that timeline looks like, but I don’t see why we’re not moving it quickly. They need to move that quickly,” said Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Jayapal said that her caucus was willing to give a bit of slack because of the partial government shutdown that took up most of the first month after Democrats took power, but progressives were ready to see some movement.
Thursday’s tax hearing agenda is not focused on Trump, though the president could always come up. Instead lawmakers plan to explore a provision in H.R. 1, a bill being pushed by House Democrats that would reform ethics, voting rights and money in politics. The bill would also require presidential and vice presidential candidates to release their tax returns.
The legislation is likely to move through the House, but it is not expected to pass the GOP-controlled Senate. If Democrats want Trump’s tax returns they’ll have to use their oversight privilege, a role the party relishes.
“The House is a separate and co-equal branch of government. We have (a constitutional) responsibility to serve as a check and balance on an out-of-control executive branch,” House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries of New York said Wednesday. “We will not be bullied by the president of the United States.”
Even though it’s their duty to conduct oversight, Democrats will not abuse their power, Jeffries said.
“The House is going to proceed with restraint with regular order. And that’s why hearings will take place, including the one on exploring taxes related to the president and the vice president before any action is taken,” he said.