A Democratic bill to rein in presidential authority designed in response to actions or threats by former President Donald Trump passed the House on Thursday but is destined to die in the Senate.
Sweeping reforms in the bill, dubbed the Protecting Our Democracy Act, would adjust requirements and restrictions regarding compliance with congressional subpoenas and pardons, the independence of inspectors general, and transitions in presidential administrations, among other measures.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and California Rep. Adam Schiff unveiled the legislation in September, with Schiff saying that Trump “made this legislation a necessity.”
"Disturbingly, the last administration saw our democracy in crisis with a rogue president who trampled over the guardrails protecting our Republic," Pelosi said on the House floor ahead of the bill’s passage. "Now, Congress has the solemn responsibility and opportunity to safeguard our democracy, ensuring that past abuses can never be perpetrated by any president of any party.”
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Republicans dismissed the bill as a Democratic preoccupation with Trump rather than a serious effort to strengthen checks and balances.
Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the Republican ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, argued that Democrats brought up the legislation because they are afraid that he will run for president again in 2024.
"Maybe instead of having another bill attacking former President Trump, we should actually focus on things that the American people care about," Jordan said.
“They have spent a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of tax dollars on trying to peddle a lot of wrongdoing in the previous administration. This bill is all about the previous administration,” said Kentucky Rep. James Comer, ranking member on the House Oversight and Reform Committee. “It's time for the majority party to focus on governing and get over their obsession with Donald Trump.”
Because of Senate rules that require a supermajority of 60 votes to end debate, the Protecting Our Democracy Act is set to die in the Senate. Republicans have 50 seats in the chamber, and it is unlikely that 10 of them would join with Democrats to pass the bill.
The legislation would make the president and vice president eligible to be criminally charged, taking aim at long-standing Department of Justice policy stating that the president cannot be indicted while in office. That made impeachment the only remedy to punish Trump after he was accused of obstructing special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Presidential and vice presidential candidates would be required to release 10 years of personal tax returns under the bill, something Trump never did.
It would also prohibit presidential “self-pardons” — a topic that Trump reportedly explored. And in aiming to curb pardons being used as a form of bribery, it would define a pardon as a “thing of value.” The Department of Justice would also be required to provide Congress with materials relating to presidential pardons of relatives or face charges of contempt of Congress or obstruction of Congress.
In response to the Trump administration stonewalling President Joe Biden’s transition team as the former president fought to overturn the election, the bill would require the administrator of the General Services Administration to treat each eligible presidential candidate as a winner, if no winner can be ascertained five days after the general election, until an ascertainment is made or a winner is certified by Congress.
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"It's not about politics, it's about the survival of our democratic system of government," Schiff said on the House floor.