House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her top lieutenants on Wednesday unveiled a sweeping anti-corruption package that they're billing as a successor to post-Watergate reforms — updated for a potential post-Trump Washington.
The measure, a 158-page Democratic wish list that includes curbs on pardons for close associates of the president, a requirement for campaigns to publicly report many foreign contacts and a requirement for courts to prioritize congressional subpoenas, is House leaders' version of an antidote to what they see as weaknesses in democratic government exposed by President Donald Trump.
Though the proposal is likely doomed in a divided Congress, Democrats are presenting the measure against the backdrop of a potential Joe Biden presidency, under which they hope to enshrine lawmakers' power to police executive branch excesses and reassert themselves as a coequal branch.
"Our democracy is not self-effectuating — it takes work and a commitment to guard it against those who would undermine it, whether foreign or domestic," the seven House committee chairs unveiling the bill said in a statement. "It is time for Congress to strengthen the bedrock of our democracy and ensure our laws are strong enough to withstand a lawless president."
The measure, which Democrats have dubbed the Protect Our Democracy Act, was offered by Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff; Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler; Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney; Budget Chair John Yarmuth; House Administration Chair Zoe Lofgren; House Foreign Affairs Chair Eliot Engel; and House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal.
A slew of rank-and-file Judiciary and Oversight Committee members signed on to the bill as well.
The measure includes a litany of distinct proposals — some offered earlier in this Congress as standalone bills — responding to specific controversies surrounding the Trump presidency, from his campaign's 2016 contacts with Russia and his posture toward the FBI's subsequent investigation to his efforts to pressure investigators to absolve political allies from prosecution. One would stiffen fines for violations of the Hatch Act, a proposal meant to prohibit federal employees from engaging in partisan politics on the taxpayers' dime, which several White House employees have run afoul of since early in Trump's term.
One measure would require the attorney general to log contacts between senior Justice Department officials and the White House, a measure intended to weed out political interference in sensitive matters, particularly those involving associates of the president. Another would bar the president from removing an inspector general without good cause and would require earlier notification to Congress, a response to Trump's summary removal of inspectors general for the intelligence community, Pentagon and State Department, who were presiding over sensitive Trump-connected investigations. And it would add additional protections for whistleblowers who come to Congress, including protection from retaliation by the president or vice president.
Another measure would reassert Congress' "power of the purse," limiting presidents' ability to block congressionally required spending — such as Trump's unilateral move to withhold $391 million in aid to Ukraine as he pressed the country's president to investigate Biden and other Democrats. And the proposal would also limit the president's ability to declare national emergencies without congressional review; Trump found funding for his border wall by declaring a national emergency that enabled him to redirect funds.
The new proposal would also strengthen Congress' hand in all investigations, including of the executive branch.
One provision requires courts to prioritize congressional lawsuits. It also allows congressional committees to request review of their suits by a three-judge district court panel — with an appeal directly to the Supreme Court. Another requires recipients of congressional subpoenas to comply with all document and testimony requests, with limited exceptions, in which cases the targets must provide a details log describing any withheld information and the legal rationale for refusing to provide it.
The measure would require campaigns to inform the FBI and Federal Election Commission if a foreign national or agent of a foreign power offers or solicits assistance.