Joe Biden’s presidential victory will end Donald Trump’s presidency, but it will not end attempts by House Democrats to investigate what has happened in the past four years.
But Democratic lawmakers fear the transition of power itself will make this task even more infuriating than it has been in the past two years – because they fear the Trump administration will shred the revenue to the exit.
In a rare move this week, all House committee chairs signed a letter to the White House, reminding officials, “You are obligated to ensure that any information previously requested by Congress … is safeguarded and archived. appropriately in a manner that is easily retrievable. “
That Democrats felt compelled to issue such a reminder reflects their lack of confidence in the Trump administration. Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL), who helped organize the letter, told the Daily Beast the idea arose out of a late-night conversation with his colleague, Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) “Trying to figure out what these things are could go wrong” during a presidential transition.
“As Americans we all worry about what someone would do with Donald Trump’s narcissistic tendencies during a transition, and how that would endanger our democracy,” said Casten, who said the Lawmakers aimed, through the letter, to warn the administration and let officials know that Congress is backing them. “The Trump administration is acting in accordance with statutory requirements,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said when asked about the Democrats’ letter.
If the Trump administration’s documents are kept and accessible, they could form the basis of something that has eluded Democrats for the past two years: investigations that actually reveal important new information, on topics ranging from COVID-19 response to administration’s immigration policy until use. public resources.
But even so, several House Democrats have told the Daily Beast they will have to make some tough choices as a caucus about how much investigative firepower to devote to the Trump presidency and where to focus it.
“There are a number of critical investigations underway that should continue until they come to a natural conclusion,” said Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD), a member of the oversight committee of the House, but he added that House Democrats will face a busy legislative agenda next year. “There will undoubtedly be a screening and selection process, undertaken with the leadership of the House,” said the Democrat of Maryland.
Before that, however, lawmakers must face a bizarre transition in which the sitting president who has defied them for years refuses, with one last middle finger, to acknowledge defeat. That refusal spread to the federal government apparatus, with the generally obscure General Service administration dragging its feet to recognize Biden as the winner of the election.
The GSA, which administers federal offices, has yet to issue a customary letter formally “confirming” Biden as president-elect, insisting it can only do so “once a winner is clear on the basis of the process established in the Constitution.
Although Biden has built an electoral college that Trump cannot surpass, the existence of Trump’s legal challenges to the election results has given the GOP, and now the GSA, the cover of ignoring the power transition. In the meantime, Biden’s team cannot access the $ 6 million set aside to ease the transition, forcing them to rely on private donors; nor can it access the many federal resources needed to do its job.
The episode set in motion a cycle all too familiar to House Democrats: they demand answers and they don’t get answers.
On Monday, Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA), who chairs the Oversight Committee on the Federal Government panel, sent a letter to Emily Murphy, the administrator of the GSA, requesting a briefing on her decision making. “Your actions delaying the ‘orderly transfer of executive power’ go against the intent of Congress and ignore the will of the people while endangering public health and national security,” wrote Connolly and fellow Democrats. . The congressman has yet to get a response.
Meanwhile, outside groups, such as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, have urged Connolly to bring Murphy to lawmakers for hearings.
When asked by The Daily Beast about these efforts, Connolly said the Trump administration was “playing with fire.” Regarding the Democrats’ response, he said, “all of these options are available” – referring to hearings, subpoenas and documents – “and will inevitably be considered.”
House Democrats will now have to balance their thirst for knowledge about the Trump administration with a new Democratic president who will undoubtedly have a new set of priorities to consider.
“We’re not going to get ahead of Biden’s team,” Connolly said. “We will obviously respect their decisions on strategy and defer to them at this delicate time.”
When Biden finally takes office – after a campaign of promises to unify and heal the country – the appetite for aggressive scrutiny of Trump on Capitol Hill is likely to wane. Democrats will have a smaller majority than before, having lost seats in the 2020 election, and it is widely feared that they could lose the majority midway through 2022.
But most members agree, for example, that they would have a broad mandate to probe the Trump administration’s botched response to the coronavirus, as long as these records are kept for the Biden administration to release. Casten, for his part, said he had written to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for months, asking for information on how it was prioritizing the flow of critical items to COVID hotspots.
“I’ve been asking for this information since April not because I’m trying to fight with the president,” Casten said, “but because I don’t want people to die… it’s not so that we can pursue a criminal responsibility, we are trying to do our job as members of the US government.
And lawmakers like Representative Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, are hungry for answers about the administration’s policy of separating children from their parents at the U.S. border, a practice which horrified members of both sides. .
“We have not been able to get clear answers from the administration regarding the separation from the family. What happened, why, how did it happen? She asked, in an interview with The Daily Beast. “There must be people looking at … how big of a problem we need to solve.”
But on some of the hottest points of inquiry of the past two years – Trump’s politicization of everything from intelligence to the Justice Department, his foreign trade relations, his administration’s use of official resources – Democrats might feel an urge to move forward, said Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, which led the impeachment inquiry.
“Although the temptation to go to the bottom is present, our task is to restore decency and competence to our government,” Himes said. “We have to look to the future around what we would like to have, as opposed to what Donald Trump may or may not have done.
Leading Democratic lawmakers have yet to signal that Trump-related investigations will be a priority for the House majority next year, and even those who have expressed interest are warning that with Biden in power, the A clear focus will be on the coronavirus response and Democratic politics. agenda.
“The top priority of the House – and presumably the entire government – will be crushing the coronavirus and rebuilding our economy, and the committee will play a key role in these efforts,” said Representative Carolyn Maloney (D- NY), chair of the House Oversight Committee, in a statement to the Daily Beast. Maloney added that the committee “will prioritize our investigation into soaring drug prices, restore the US Postal Service and ensure the census is accurate and complete.”
Few lawmakers disagree with these priorities. But many of them believe that part of their duty in the post-Trump era is to understand how exactly this president has exercised his power, in order to prevent similar abuses from happening again in the future.
“There are key constitutional limits that have been trampled underfoot over the past four years,” said Raskin, who mentioned emolument clauses in the Constitution – one of his favorite subjects – which prohibit the president from ” use the office for personal enrichment. During his tenure, Trump directed a constant flow of activity to his personal properties, often taxpayer-funded businesses, raising serious questions about the extent of his profits in power.
“We need to have an account with what has happened in terms of the violation of basic principles,” said Raskin, and consider “new legal mechanisms that will prevent any repeat operations of the office in the future.”
Achieving that balance will be difficult, Casten said. “None of us want to be in this position,” he said. “But we have to ask ourselves what we can do to prevent this from happening again.”
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