WASHINGTON – Democrats want to examine President Donald Trump’s tax returns. There’s talk of launching an independent commission into his administration’s handling of the hurricane that wracked Puerto Rico. Progressive activists are ready to start impeachment proceedings.
If Democrats take control of a congressional chamber in the November election, expect a flood of hearings, investigations, probes and special commissions starting in January. Democrats on two government watchdog House panels say Republicans have stifled and blocked nearly 75 lines of inquiry into various Trump policies and issues.
Democratic members of Congress are already at the starting gate, ready to pounce.
“What we want is to be a check on this president, rather than a rubber stamp,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.
Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to win the House and two to control the Senate. Independent analysts say both goals are reachable.
Investigating could be easy. Tossing Trump out of office would be nearly impossible. And reversing policy could be tough, since it usually takes 60 votes to overcome filibusters.
Here’s a look at some of the methods Democrats are ready to employ:
“It will start with hearings around all of those pieces, Trump’s Cabinet, corruption,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which could consider impeachment proceedings.
She said Democratic committee members have kept track of more than two dozen issues they’d like to investigate, including the administration’s family separation policy and the firing of FBI Director James Comey.
“What we want to say is, ‘Look, we should have this information.’ We will see where it all leads,” Jayapal said. “I’m one of the people who believe we should be having a debate on impeachment, but that’s a political act. We have to build that case.”
Democratic leaders have sought to tamp down calls for impeachment, but it remains popular among the Democratic base. And Trump has used the threat to rally his supporters.
“If it does happen, it’s your fault, because you didn’t go out to vote, OK?” the president warned supporters at a campaign rally in Montana this month.
Democrats, even those who backed a bid to impeach or censure Trump after he blamed “both sides” for deadly violence stemming from a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va., last year, say they would need to establish a case for Trump’s removal.
While an article of impeachment would need only a House majority, tossing Trump out of office would need a two-thirds Senate majority. And that is likely to be unattainable.
That’s why some House Democrats are looking at formally censuring Trump, as they sought to do after Trump’s remarks about Charlottesville.
With that tactic, Democrats would be emulating Republicans who frequently filed censure resolutions against President Barack Obama and members of his administration. Most went nowhere, but the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in 2012 voted to censure then-Attorney General Eric Holder for his role in the botched Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation into Mexico.
There were also efforts in the late 1990s to censure Bill Clinton over his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. In the 2000s, Democrats tried to censure President George W. Bush for authorizing a no-warrant domestic surveillance program.
One president has been formally censured: President Andrew Jackson was admonished by the Senate in 1834 for refusing to turn over documents that lawmakers had requested. Once censured, though, the president remains in office, his official power undiminished.
If they are in the majority, Democrats will have subpoena power, and there’s a long list of areas they want to investigate, notably looking at whether Trump has violated the little-known emoluments clause of the Constitution involving doing business with foreign governments.
“Subpoenas provide access to documents and information that are not available right now,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Democrats in the House have already called for at least 50 inquiries, said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the House’s chief government watchdog panel.
“We’re going to demand accountability,” Cummings said.
His lines of inquiry would include what he sees as the administration’s deference to the states on voting rights, its decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census and the administration’s ethics.
Other areas likely to face probes: The administration’s handling of Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico last year, as well as the decision to separate migrant families at the border. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., has called for an independent commission to look into the federal response in Puerto Rico.
Tops for some Democrats would be rolling back Trump administration policy, including countering Republican efforts to dismantle the Obama-era Affordable Care Act and pushing legislation to make it more difficult for Trump to fire special counsel Robert Mueller.
“There’s a punch list of work we’ll have to do immediately to try and undo Trump’s sabotage campaign” against the Affordable Care Act, Murphy said.
Foremost could be stopping Trump administration judicial nominees. Murphy also said Democrats would also likely look to push gun control legislation and “shore up” international alliances. He said he also wants Congress to look at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department, “where it seems like the big polluters have an awful lot of say.”
One big roadblock: The 60 votes typically needed to stop a Senate filibuster. Democrats are unlikely to have anywhere near that number next year.
Democrats have been calling for Trump to release his federal income tax returns since he became a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.
Since Trump took office, Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., has pressed for the release of Trump’s tax returns, including asking the chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means to invoke Section 6103 of the tax code to obtain Trump’s tax returns.
That section of the Internal Revenue Code permits three congressional committees to obtain otherwise private tax information from the IRS.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland has outlined a package of oversight and anti-corruption measures he says he’d launch if Democrats took control of the House.
They would include strengthening ethics standards for members of Congress, including banning them from serving on corporate boards. He’d also look to increase transparency by making lawmakers’ financial disclosures easier to find and requiring greater disclosures of campaign contributors, including a penalty for certain political action committees that fail to identify their donors.
“There ought to be a requirement for full financial disclosure, including the most recent five years of tax returns, for the president and vice president,” Hoyer said. “This is essential if citizens can be confident that decisions are being made in the public interest, rather than in the president’s personal interest.”