Rep. Adam Schiff offered assurances Thursday that his proposal to bolster Congress’ check on the executive branch will apply to presidents of both parties, when he was asked about concerns over the Biden family capitalizing on the president’s name.
The California Democrat said his Protecting Our Democracy Act, which he introduced Tuesday with more than 200 cosponsors, is aimed at reinforcing norms flouted by former President Donald Trump.
The bill includes measures aimed at presidential powers including curbing pardons, bolstering congressional subpoena power and shoring up oversight of payments made to a sitting president.
The latter measure raised questions as to how the legislation could impact President Biden, who faces lingering allegations by some Republicans that his family has capitalized on his time in office.
“Are you concerned at all about the current president’s family members making money basically on the Biden name — Hunter Biden selling his art, the brothers doing business?” Linda Feldmann, Washington bureau chief of The Christian Science Monitor, asked Mr. Schiff during Thursday’s Monitor Breakfast.
“I think we apply the same standard to any president of either party,” Mr. Schiff said. “If any president’s conduct violates the constitutional prohibition on emoluments then there needs to be a mechanism to enforce it.”
“And so this is one of the reasons why I say that this package of reforms is really party neutral, president neutral,” he continued. “It’s a means of ensuring there’s good government no matter who occupies that office.”
Mr. Schiff said the proposal on emoluments was driven primarily by what he viewed as questionable business dealings on behalf of Mr. Trump while he was in office.
“One of the prevailing concerns I had about the last president, just to use one example, is he was trying to build a Trump Tower in Moscow?” Mr. Schiff said.
“From my point of view, anyone who wants to be the president of the United States needs to put the country first, not their business interests,” he said. “And if they’re unwilling to do it, they shouldn’t run for president.”
He said he does not expect to “have to use” the “protections” offered by his legislation against the Biden administration.
“But they also need to be mindful of what future Congresses might do,” he said when asked how a Republican-controlled Congress could leverage the reforms against Mr. Biden.
While Mr. Schiff’s legislation enjoys significant support in the House, with more than 200 Democratic cosponsors, Republicans will likely be a challenge.
Other than the bill’s two Republican cosponsors, the GOP has largely been mum on the proposal. The bill would need at least 10 Republican votes in the Senate to pass.
Many of the measures proposed in the legislation have received Republican support in the past, but the bill is branded largely as a rebuke of Mr. Trump, who still maintains a tight grip over GOP lawmakers.
“I think what the Republican members of the House and Senate will need to decide is whether the coercion of the former president, the fear of the former president, is sufficient to override what they always felt was good policy in the past,” Mr. Schiff said.
But Republican lawmakers will not be the only challenge going forward. Mr. Schiff said Thursday that some of the bill’s language is still being smoothed out with the Biden administration. He said he has worked to address the administration’s concerns over the past few months, and said he anticipated concerns no matter who was in office.
Mr. Schiff said some sticking points remain with the White House, though he would not offer specifics.
“We have not been able to reach full agreement on all the provisions of the bill, so that will continue to be a work in progress,” he said. “There were areas that we felt we could accommodate and did. There are areas where we felt we could not.”
• Joseph Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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