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Congress Aims to Fix Pres. Ethics Rules05/23 06:13

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Bipartisan legislation introduced in the House on 
Wednesday would require presidents and vice presidents to publicly disclose tax 
returns before, during and after their time in the White House as Congress 
makes an election-year push to curb foreign influence in American politics.

   The proposal, led by the unusual pairing of Republican Rep. James Comer and 
progressive Democratic Rep. Katie Porter, is the latest effort to bolster 
congressional oversight of presidential ethics as both parties grapple with 
congressional investigations into their leading candidates for the White House.

   "We both agreed that this was going to be a bill about the future and about 
restoring trust in government," Porter told The Associated Press on Wednesday. 
"It's not a bill about any past president."

   Democrats on Tuesday introduced rival legislation that would enforce the 
Constitution's ban on emoluments, which prohibits a president from accepting 
foreign gifts and money without the permission of Congress. Proponents of that 
proposal say Republican Donald Trump brazenly ignored the clause while 
president as foreign government officials flocked to his various hotels and 
properties.

   The release of the dueling bills suggests bipartisan appetite in Congress 
for revising presidential ethics rules. But those proposals are intertwined 
with fiercely partisan fights about the conduct of Trump and Democratic 
President Joe Biden, and it remains to be seen whether any bill can make it 
through the House, let alone become law.

   The White House said in a statement Wednesday that Biden has already 
complied with many of the provisions laid out in the legislation and "made 
clear his commitment to upholding strong ethical standards."

   The proposal from Comer, R-Ky., and Porter, D-Calif., is focused on greater 
transparency and requires the disclosure of foreign payments, gifts and loans 
made to officials' immediate family members. Presidents and vice presidents 
would be required to disclose when immediate family members accompany them on 
official travel and specify when they do so for official business purposes. The 
provisions are a direct response to concerns surrounding the business dealings 
of Trump's children and Biden's son.

   The approaches by Trump and Biden to financial disclosures have been starkly 
different. Trump has persistently rejected efforts to share details about his 
financial history, counter to the practice of transparency followed by all his 
predecessors in the post-Watergate era. Biden has routinely released his annual 
returns.

   Comer, chairman of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, said 
the legislation would ensure "that moving forward, American presidents, vice 
presidents, and their family members cannot profit from their proximity to 
power."

   "Although we have not needed to develop a full-blown legislative machinery 
to enforce the Emoluments Clause for more than two centuries, Congress must now 
enact a law to prevent Presidents from ever again exploiting the presidency for 
self-enrichment by selling out our government to foreign states," Rep. Jamie 
Raskin of Maryland, the committee's top Democrat, said in a statement.

   GOP lawmakers, led by Comer, have asserted for the past 17 months that the 
Biden family has traded on the president's name by trying to link a handful of 
phone calls or dinner meetings between Biden, when he was vice president or out 
of office, and his son Hunter and his business associates.

   The committee has released records showing that from 2014 to 2019 several 
members of the Biden family have received more than $15 million in payments 
from foreign entities. Additionally, Republicans have criticized a series of 
loans Democratic donors have given to the president's family, including more 
than $6 million that entertainment attorney Kevin Morris has provided to Hunter 
Biden.

   However, Republicans have not been able to produce evidence that shows Joe 
Biden was directly involved or benefited from his family's businesses while in 
public office.

   Meanwhile, Democrats on the committee released a report in January that 
found that Trump's businesses received nearly $8 million from 20 foreign 
governments during his presidency.

   It outlined how foreign governments and their entities poured millions into 
various Trump properties, including the Trump International Hotels in 
Washington and Las Vegas as well as two Trump properties in New York. The 
payees ranged from China to Saudi Arabia to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

   Government ethics lawyers condemned Trump's decision to hold onto his vast 
business empire after taking office, saying the decision provided ample 
opportunity for people who want to influence U.S. policy to curry favor with 
the president.

   Trump and his legal team asserted that critics have misinterpreted the 
emoluments clauses, saying that the framers of the Constitution did not intend 
for them to cover fair-value transactions between a business and its customers, 
such as offering a hotel room for the night for payment.

 
 
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