Press "Enter" to skip to content

White House accused of scuttling Democratic support for ethics bill

House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) and Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) made sure to line up an equal number of lawmakers from each side of the aisle to serve as co-sponsors when they joined forces on a White House ethics bill last month. 

That careful balance soon fell apart, however, after three Democrats backed out of their previous commitments to support the bill — vanishing, Porter said, after the White House reached out to her colleagues.

That backing slipped away, she said, on the eve of the bill’s introduction as she was boarding a flight back to Washington, D.C.

“I was excited to come to Washington to introduce my bill. And was proud that I had found three senior Democratic co-sponsors. When I landed, I was really disappointed to learn that those co-sponsors had decided not to support the bill and had had conversations with the White House,” Porter told The Hill. 

The White House declined to comment on the accusation, and two of the would-be sponsors denied being contacted by Biden administration associates. 

But the episode sheds new light on the unraveling of an effort to secure bipartisan backing for a bill that would mark a major legislative achievement for Comer — the Republican leading the charge to investigate the Biden family.

Lawmakers and other sources who spoke to The Hill said the three Democrats — Reps. Ro Khanna (Calif.), Raja Krishnamoorthi (Ill.) and Kweisi Mfume (Md.) — abandoned their plans to sign on to the bill over concerns about both its content and the way it could be used against the Biden family going into the campaign.

“It’s too partisan a tool to cudgel the president as opposed to a serious effort of bipartisan ethics reform,” Khanna told The Hill when asked about his decision to drop off the bill.

Khanna said he changed his mind after seeing “the content of it and then seeing some of the statements that I thought would be used.” 

“I don’t think it was bipartisan enough,” he said, adding later, “but I made the decision independently. No one called me.”

Mfume said he “didn’t get the real sense there was going to be enough bipartisan support on the bill.”

“I wanted to see a larger bipartisan effort. I was under the belief that there would be and when there wasn’t, I just said, ‘Let me step off,’” he told The Hill. 

But he added he got “none — absolutely zero” pushback on the bill from the White House or allies. 

Krishnamoorthi declined to comment.

The ethics legislation nonetheless got a lukewarm reception from the White House last month, which said it was always willing to consider Comer’s “bright ideas.” It otherwise stressed President Biden’s existing disclosures and commitment to ethics.

The bill from Comer and Porter would impose a series of disclosure requirements on both presidents and vice presidents, including on any foreign income earned either by themselves or their relatives.

It would also require those top executives, once elected, to share their tax returns and to disclose any conflicts of interest.

While it would represent a step forward for Oval Office transparency, some elements of the bill appear to be inspired by Comer’s investigation into the Biden family.

For instance, it would require detailing any loans made to family members and documenting when immediate relatives join the president on Air Force One, including whether the travel was for business purposes. Both situations were raised by Republicans after Biden, while serving as vice president, loaned money to his brother and had his son accompany him on trips.

Comer and Porter have made the rounds as a political odd couple, doing joint interviews on their legislation and promoting what they hope can be a bipartisan vehicle for imposing greater oversight on the White House.

Porter said she hoped the tenor of that rollout would help allay the Democratic concerns that the bill is designed to target the Biden family. 

“Mr. Comer and I did extensive publicity about the bill. And [during] all of that publicity … both Mr. Comer and I took great pains to make clear that this is not about any future president, it is about having the right set of rules to restore trust in the executive,” she said.

“The truth is, it is about restoring trust in government. Full stop.”

Comer said little when approached by The Hill about the swift loss of Democratic sponsors on the legislation, throwing his hands up as he said, “I’m trying to get a bill passed right now.”

But he said he had organized potential Republican bill sponsors from among the committee’s subcommittee chairs. 

“I told my Republican members I would get as many co-sponsors as Katie got, because I want this to be truly bipartisan because if it’s going to become law, it’s going to have to be bipartisan, right? So I said, ‘If you get four, I’ll get four. If you get none, I won’t have any,’” Comer said.

Comer has described the bill as a “sincere” effort, one that he promised since his very first days taking the reins of the Oversight Committee.

Democrats do not view Comer as sincere, but rather as Congress’s most prominent champion of the effort to impeach Biden.

It’s an investigation they’ve lambasted from the beginning but have increasingly mocked as Republicans have failed to find a smoking gun to demonstrate Biden took any official action to benefit his family.

Comer nonetheless pledged the investigation would lead to legislation to address influence peddling — spawning the proposal he introduced with Porter last month.

Tensions over the bill bubbled up as soon as it was rolled out.

Comer and Porter’s plans to debut their bill spurred Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, to introduce his own legislation targeting foreign money the evening before their rollout.

“When I heard that Chairman Comer was putting out his bill, I thought it would be a good time to put out our proposal,” he told The Wall Street Journal at the time.

Raskin’s bill takes a different approach to addressing foreign money, bolstering the Emoluments Clause, which requires the president to get permission from Congress before accepting any funding from foreign governments.

His legislation would add criminal penalties for those who skirt the constitutional requirement, something he said would address former President Trump’s failure to do so while in office.

Raskin has criticized Porter and Comer’s bill, calling it “weak” and arguing it should apply to candidates as well — noting that Trump never released his own taxes.

Porter, meanwhile, previously described Raskin’s bill as “punitive.”

Despite the rocky rollout, some Democrats didn’t foreclose the possibility that they could support Comer and Porter’s bill.

“The key issue in my mind is that when he was in the White House, Donald Trump crossed a really important line. He collected millions of dollars from foreign governments, and we need to reestablish the wall of separation between American political leaders and foreign government money,” Raskin said.

“The proposal that Katie Porter worked out with Chairman Comer is a disclosure bill, which is OK, but it doesn’t go remotely far enough because it doesn’t apply to candidates. And if it applied to candidates, that’s something that I could look at in conjunction with the emoluments legislation that we so desperately need.”

Khanna, who has pushed to ban stock trading for members of Congress, also said he could support the bill “with proper amendments.”

Porter meanwhile has remained hopeful some colleagues will join her effort as the bill proceeds.

“Our job in Congress is to pass legislation that improves our government. This legislation does that. It is not to punish or reward friends or enemies. It is to pass legislation that improves the lives of the American people and improves our democracy, and this legislation meets that test. That’s why I’m proud to support it,” Porter said.

“I think that’s the question people should be asking themselves not, ‘Who’s the sponsor?’ or  ‘Who wrote it?’ but instead, ‘Is this legislation that would make our democracy stronger?’ And the answer is a clear, unqualified yes.”

Source: The Hill

Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *