Democrats Look To Limit Executive Power Post-Trump

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Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California, is the chief House prosecutor at the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump
Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California, is the chief House prosecutor at the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump

House Democrats introduce legislation Tuesday to create new checks and balances on the presidency. The move comes after former President Donald Trump faced broad criticism for breaking presidential norms.

The legislation is called the Protecting Our Democracy Act. It would limit pardon power and self pardons, strengthen Congress’ ability to enforce lawfully issued subpoenas, and require more transparency with tax records. The measure would also suspend the statute of limitations for federal offenses made by a sitting president or vice president.

“The proposals respond to longstanding vulnerabilities in our democracy that have allowed for the aggrandizement of presidential power, many of which have been exploited over decades by presidents of both parties, and some of which reached new heights through the actions of the Trump administration,” the bill's website reads.

The bill would also require the Justice Department to turn over logs of contacts with White House officials and constraining a president’s ability to declare a national emergency and spend money in ways Congress did not approve.

The legislation was drafted by Rep. Adam Schiff, D- Calif., who said he hoped the bill receives a floor vote this fall. The bill would constrain President Joe Biden and his successors from behaving the same way as Trump. The bill would require 10 Republican votes to pass the Senate before it became law.

“Many of the pieces of the Protecting Our Democracy Act have previously received substantial Republican support in the Senate, and we believe that they will again as part of other legislation there,” said Soren Dayton, a policy advocate with the group Protect Democracy.

Schiff had said Trump’s demonstration that a president can flout norms of self-restraint in office "has really put our republic on a very tenuous footing." 

"Our democracy turns out to be much more fragile than we understood, and this is an effort to put into law that which we thought was already mandatory," Schiff said.

Other sections of the bill strengthen the emoluments clause of the constitution by declaring in a statute that anti-corruption extends to commercial transactions, making it easier to enforce the rule. Trump’s refusal to divest from his hotels and resorts raised corruption concerns as Saudi-funded lobbyists paid for 500 rooms at Trump’s hotels after his victory in the 2016 election. 

A White House spokesperson said the administration supports most of the provisions “to restore the guardrails” of democracy and pledged to work with Congress on the details.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the proposed legislation is “a robust, transformative package of democracy reforms that will restore democratic norms and institutions and put in place essential safeguards to prevent any president, regardless of party, from abusing the public trust or desecrating our democracy.”

Democrats have worked with Sam Eldridge, the founder of Stand Up America, to run ads promoting the bill. Eldridge says the goal of the grassroots campaign is to get the bill “across the finish line.”

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