WASHINGTON — House Democrats began hearings on Thursday about a plan that would force President Donald Trump to release his tax returns, as the party faces pressure from liberal organizations.
A House Ways and Means Committee panel brought in several experts in tax law to discuss the impact of a provision in Democrats’ anti-corruption bill that would compel presidential candidates to release 10 years of tax returns within 30 days of receiving their party’s nomination. The provision would apply to Trump, but Republicans oppose the measure and are expected to have the votes to block it in the Senate.
“We will examine a topic of great interest to the American people: We will review whether a president, vice president, [or other candidates for office] … should be required by law to make their tax returns available to the public,” said Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., chairman of the oversight subcommittee conducting Thursday’s hearing. “We will ask the question: Does the public have a need to know that a person seeking the highest office in our country obeys tax law?”
The subcommittee was not expected to take action on Thursday to specifically seek Trump’s tax returns, but the hearing was part of its broader push to lay the groundwork for a potential request, with lawmakers expected to ask about their authority to request the records.
“I think overwhelmingly the public wants to see the president’s tax returns. They want to know the truth, they want to know the facts,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats’ leader, said at a news conference Thursday. But she warned that the move cannot be made in haste.
“As I’ve said, we’re in our first month. … In terms of the tax returns, it’s not just a question of sending a letter; you have to do it in a very careful way. And the chairman of the committee will be doing that.”
Republicans have castigated attempts to pry into Trump’s personal records as “presidential harassment,” with Trump taking to twitter repeatedly to claim they were going “nuts” with investigations. At his State of the Union Address, Trump slammed Democrats for their investigations, which are being led by multiple committees and extend beyond the scope of his tax returns.
“An economic miracle is taking place in the United States — and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations,” Trump said. “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.”
Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, said Congress is barred from releasing tax returns for political purposes.
“Such an abuse of power would open up Pandora’s box that would be tough to get a lid back on. It would set a very dangerous precedent. And the question is, ‘Where does it end?’ ” Kelly said. “What about the tax returns of the speaker? Members of Congress? Federal employees? Or, for that matter, any political donors? There is no end in sight for those whose tax information may be in jeopardy.”
Trump has said he cannot release his returns because he is being audited by the Internal Revenue Service. He has also said his returns are “extremely complex” and that there’s “nothing to learn” from them, according to Bloomberg. Every president has released at least one year of annual tax returns since the 1970s.
Trump’s tax returns have been the subject of intense speculation in American politics since he refused to release them during the 2016 presidential campaign.
A 1924 law gives authority to the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and the chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation to request in writing taxpayer information from the Treasury Department.
Yet there’s no guarantee that the administration will comply. That sets up the possibility of a legal battle that could take years to resolve, possibly stretching beyond the 2020 presidential election.
Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has said little on the subject, focusing his early efforts on policy issues such as health insurance, retirement security and prescription drug prices.
“I think we will,” Neal said when asked whether the panel under his control would ask for the documents. If the administration then mounted a legal challenge, he added, “I assume that there would be a court case that would go on for a period of time.”
Information for this article was contributed by Jeff Stein and Mike DeBonis of The Washington Post; and by Marcy Gordon of The Associated Press.
A Section on 02/08/2019
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