Party lines have been drawn in the sand this week on the matter of Donald Trump and his alleged ties to Russia, as well as any matters that could provide information on the topic, such as Donald Trump’s tax returns. In two separate votes this week, House Republicans voted almost unanimously against the issue of Trump’s tax returns and the matter of releasing information that could potentially be related to the Trump-Russia allegations.
Think Progress notes that on Monday evening, 229 House Republicans voted against Trump’s tax returns being released to the public.
On Tuesday, a day-long hearing held by the House Judiciary Committee debated a resolution that would lead to the release of information that could shed light on the allegations of Trump’s connections to Russia. In that day-long hearing, two other matters were discussed prior to the Resolution of Inquiry debate on Trump in a hearing that ultimately lasted over eight hours.
The resolution seeking information related to allegations of Donald Trump’s Russian connections is known as H.Res.111 and was left to the last of the day’s agenda after a public had been waiting to hear what their Congress would do and say on the record on the matter of the Trump-Russia allegations.
Debates were very heated, with final votes on both matters drawing clear party lines in the sand. First, on Monday, the subject of Donald Trump’s tax returns went to a floor vote in Congress in a measure introduced by Democrat Rep. Bill Pascrell for New Jersey, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, seeking an order to have Donald Trump’s tax returns released to Congress.
Think Progress reports that House Republicans voted en mass to block the measure with 229 Republicans, almost all Republicans present, voting against the measure. The House Ways and Means Committee does have the authority to examine tax returns, and if they were released to Congress, they would effectively be made public.
The president of the United States has broken with tradition and precedent and has refused to release his tax returns to the American people. During the 2016 election campaign, he said it was because his tax returns were being audited. His personal counselor, Kellyanne Conway, went on the record after Inauguration Day on January 22 to say that Donald Trump wouldn’t release his tax returns.
In that interview with George Stephanoplous of ABC News, Kellyanne Conway said that most Americans were not interested in Donald Trump’s tax returns. But more than 1 million signatures on a petition asking the White House to release them suggests otherwise, as do multiple polls.
The Hill reports that an ABC News/Washington Post poll found in January of 2017 that 74 percent of Americans want to see Donald Trump’s tax returns. Politico reported in August of 2016 on a Quinnipac University poll that 62 percent of Republicans want to see Donald Trump’s tax returns too.
But according to Monday’s vote, 100 percent of Republicans in Congress do not want Donald Trump’s tax returns released. Politico notes that 185 Democrats voted in favor of the release of Trump’s tax returns.
Republican Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas said that it was a violation of Trump’s “civil liberties.”
But Rep. Bill Pascrell said, “The American people have the right to know whether or not their president is operating under conflicts of interest related to international affairs, tax reform, government contracts, or otherwise.”
It was the first look at how Congress would vote when it comes to the sensitive matter of Donald Trump’s business conflicts, many of which are alleged to be Trump-Russia connections. The second look occurred the following day, when the House Judiciary Committee met, a committee that is majority House Republicans.
After eight hours of debate on three measures, the House Judiciary Committee ultimately passed the Resolution of Inquiry regarding information related to Trump Russia allegations, but with strong reservations. Those hearings led to a vote that passed the resolution, but with the amendment that the matter would be reported to Congress “unfavorably,” reports Politico in a separate report.
The measure is called a resolution of inquiry and is a not often used measure in committee or on the House floor. The resolution, known as H.Res.111, was seeking disclosure from the Department of Justice to Congress on “any document, record, memo, correspondence, or other communication related to criminal or counterintelligence investigations involving Trump or White House staff.”
The resolution of inquiry is sponsored by Democrat Rep. Bob Nadler of New York. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee tweeted that he thought it was “unnecessary and premature and driven by politics.”
And yet, the votes were anything but bipartisan. The debate leading up to the final votes were also clearly drawing the partisan lines in the sand.
Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, a freshman Congress member debated, “In fact what we are witnessing is that President Trump’s detractors are going through the stages of grief because Hillary Clinton lost and Donald Trump won.”
Democrat Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee discussed the Trump Russia allegations extensively, saying, “There is smoke and fire, so much so that I am overwhelmed. One that is most disturbing is that the law enforcement agency would announce something about one candidate, but not another.”
Multiple Democrats drew comparisons to President Nixon in their debates in House Judiciary Committee yesterday, including Rep. John Conyers, the longest-serving Congress member in the House.
He said, “Each one of us has taken the oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic and to faithfully discharge the duties of the office. The resolution before us is an opportunity to be faithful to that oath.”
The party lines during the debate were very clear.
At one point, a Democrat was interrupted repeatedly, and in frustration, he said, “I believe we are having an Elizabeth Warren moment.”
The crowd was getting noticeably less patient as the hearing dragged on for hours with very few breaks. Some members of the public weren’t able to get in at all.
The GOP also appeared to be blocking access to the hearing from the public. With a full gallery, many members of the public had been waiting outside for hours to see the hearing.
Democrat Rep. Jackson Lee asked the Republican Chair Goodlatte to let the public in, saying, “Mr. Chairman, open the seats so that the people of this nation can watch truth and democracy be in play.”
Her requests and motions on the matter were ignored.
— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) February 28, 2017
The Democrats were repeatedly accused of making this a partisan issue.
On that note, Rep. Cicilline said, “It’s very sad to me that representatives would make this about politics and party. Putin is a dangerous and brutal dictator. The American people need to have confidence that the government is acting in their interests, and not in the interests of government. I am very disturbed about the relationship between Trump and Russia.”
Democrat Rep. Swalwell for California also strenuously rebuked the notion that this was a partisan matter. He noted multiple examples of Trump’s Russian connections, some of which Donald Trump Jr. has admitted himself.
At 6:41 in the video below, he also said, “Donald Trump really admires Vladimir Putin. It’s really bizarre….he can’t say a single bad thing, even when presented with evidence that he’s a murderer and a thug. It’s a fact that he does business with Russia. It’s a fact that Donald Trump wants to reduce sanctions on Russia. It’s also a fact that Donald Trump has spoken openly about reducing the influence of NATO. And most disturbingly, it’s a fact that Donald Trump is a president who will not show his taxes. If only one of them were true, we could say sure, the Russia thing is just a coincidence. But all of them are true. These dots are all connected. This is not about politics. This is about our democracy that is worth defending.”
Democrat Rep. Ted Lieu was a little harsher.
Right after Rep. Swalwell spoke, he said, “We can not trust the President of the United States. And it pains me to say that. I served in active duty in the military. I have great respect for the office of the president. But we know that Donald Trump lies and makes stuff up. The Washington Post has now fact checked him and said that in his first 33 days, he made 132 false or misleading statements. That sounds to me like a pathological liar. That is not acceptable.”
Rep. Lieu was then rebuked for calling the president a pathological liar and was asked to withdraw the statement, which he did. Rep. Raskin made Maryland proud when he spoke for his constituents passionately as well.
He said, “This is America!! America’s a great country. And our founders set it up so we wouldn’t have a king. We ALL work for the people!”
Every time a Democrat debated, a Republican asked that their words be struck down, a matter of process in committee. Multiple objections were made by the Republicans. No Democrats objected to the resolution.
Rep. Deutch said, “I don’t understand what the objection is. The fact is while my friends have criticized us for playing politics, questioned our motives, our mental state, the fact is that it is inconceivable that there could be an objection to any one of these [requests].”
With time reaching the eight-hour mark and just a few hours away from President Trump’s Joint Address to Congress, Rep. Deutch of Florida asked Chairman Goodlatte that if the resolution failed, the House Judiciary Committee should send a letter to the attorney general asking for all of this information and giving the Attorney General a date to release the information by.
Mr. Deutch proposed that if the attorney general refused that information or did not release it by said time, the attorney general should be brought in for questioning, in closed session if necessary, to answer the questions that hundreds of thousands of Americans have, and answers that they deserve to know.
The resolution was then turned into a resolution with a substitution, meaning it would go to a vote on the grounds that the House Judiciary Committee would report it as “unfavorably” to Congress. Thus, the members voting in favor of the vote were members voting for the measure to be reported as “unfavorable” to Congress. The resolution passed on those grounds on a vote of 16-18.
— puffin98 (@puffin98) February 27, 2017
The members of Congress that voted in favor of the motion being reported as “unfavorable” to Congress were all Republican and included Rep. Goodlatte, Rep. Sensenbrenner, Rep. Smith, Rep. Issa, Rep. King, Rep. Jordan, Rep. Poe, Rep. Chaffetz, Rep. Marino, Rep. Gowdy, Rep. Labrador, Rep. Farenthold, Rep. Ratcliffe, Rep. Roby, Rep. Gaetz, Rep. Franks, Rep. Biggs, and Rep. Bass.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) March 1, 2017
After the hearing, and after last night’s joint address to Congress, the White House tweeted a message from the House Judiciary chair Bob Goodlatte, who is making it clear where he is aligned. The House Judiciary Committee has also tweeted that the resolution in itself was “politically charged” and “unnecessary,” although the Committee is required to be a bipartisan effort. An examination of the House Judiciary Committee Twitter timeline also reveals that many GOP initiatives are promoted or retweeted on their page, but no Democrat initiatives are promoted or retweeted.
— House Judiciary ⚖ (@HouseJudiciary) February 28, 2017
Meanwhile, Democrats, concerned citizens, and possibly some Republicans who have not gone on the record are calling for an independent investigation of Trump’s connections to Russia.
[Feature Image by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Images]