THE NEW REPUBLIC
The president’s actions this week are accomplishing what Democrats have failed to do.
Every president squabbles with Congress about its oversight powers at some point. But Trump’s approach is different. Rather than weigh the validity of each request for information from House Democrats, he’s refusing to abide by any of them. “We’re fighting all the subpoenas,” Trump told reporters on Wednesday. “These aren’t, like, impartial people. The Democrats are trying to win 2020.” Trump isn’t just chafing against the elementary idea of checks and balances; he’s rejecting the concept itself.
At the same time, Democrats are debating whether Trump’s actions over the past two years are enough to justify his impeachment. If they decide in the affirmative, they would need to convince America that his threat to the nation’s constitutional order is so great and immediate that the 2020 election is too distant to wait for the nation’s verdict. But Trump might beat them to it.
Some of the president’s clashes with Congress aren’t that surprising. During the 2016 election, he broke with four decades of precedent by refusing to release his tax returns. That raised questions about whether he had any outstanding foreign debts, which could increase the risk of foreign leverage over him, as well as any potential conflicts of interest from his sources of income. To that end, the House Ways and Means Committee formally requested Trump’s returns from the IRS earlier this month.
There’s a federal statute from the 1920s that allows the tax committees to request any individual’s tax returns, but Trump’s personal lawyers have put forward a dubious legal argument to keep them secret. (They’ve made similar arguments to block other House committees from obtaining the returns.) It’s a cynical gambit. Even if the courts rule against Trump, the legal proceedings might still run out the clock before the 2020 election. In any event, the Treasury Department is slow-walking its decisionon whether to turn them over until then.
If you’re feeling generous toward the Trump administration, you might forgive them for challenging Democrats’ novel use of an old statute. But far more mundane oversight matters are also facing stiff resistance.