On Wednesday morning, Donald Trump held a long-awaited press conference to address how he will deal with the potential conflicts of interest posed by his massive business empire. For weeks, ethics watchdogs have called on the president-elect to fully divest from his business operations and place them in a blind trust.
Trump ignored those demands, announcing that he will retain ownership of his businesses, which his sons will oversee in a trust. To address concerns about possible violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, Trump said that he will donate all of earnings from hotel bookings made by foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury. (Sheri Dillon, Trump’s attorney has argued that his hotel holdings do not violate the Emoluments Clause.)
Trump continued to insist that none these measures were required by law and that he was making these moves voluntarily. “[My sons] are going to be running it in a very professional manner. They’re not going to discuss it with me. Again, I don’t have to do this. They’re not going to discuss it with me,” Trump said.
In response, House Democrats plan to launch a “Democracy Reform Task Force” that aims to hold Trump accountable for conflicts of interest and ethical lapses. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has tapped Maryland Congressman John Sarbanes, a leading proponent of ethics reform, to head the task force.
Trump’s plan “doesn’t come close to solving the problems that these conflicts of interest present,” Sarbanes says in an interview with the Prospect. “This notion that giving it to his sons to look after is absurd as representing any real distancing from these conflicts.”
“Without fully divesting ownership, there’s no way to avoid potential for divided loyalties. When he goes to make a decision [as president], somewhere in his brain, if he still has business ownership, he’s got to be thinking if the decision as president will hurt or benefit his business,” Sarbanes adds.
While the Democrats’ new task force won’t have any formal power to investigate Trump, Sarbanes said that members will hold ethics forums around the country; provide resources to ranking Democrats on relevant committees; and highlight Democratic legislation—like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s bill that would require Trump to fully divest or Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin’s bill to ban “golden parachute” bonuses for private-sector executives entering public service—that address the ethical concerns of Trump’s administration. “[The task force] can be a very effective clearinghouse on this broad issue of accountability,” Sarbanes says.
Sarbanes hopes that the task force will serve as a rapid-response operation to deal with Trump administration ethics concerns as they emerge. He also wants to see the group organize campaigns like the one that public-interest organizations led in early January that generated a flood of constituent calls to House Republicans after news broke that they planned to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics. The calls were widely credited with forcing Republicans to back off the plan.
The Democrats’ ethics task force could become their primary tool for challenging the impending ethical dilemmas of the Trump administration, especially since they aren’t optimistic that congressional Republicans will monitor or rein in any new Trump conflicts that come to light.
Sarbanes is setting out to recruit members of the Democratic caucus to help articulate “nimble, timely” responses as needed while crafting an overarching message that Democrats are leading the way on holding Trump accountable. “We want to be in the middle of that conversation,” he says, adding “I don’t see that coming from the other side of the aisle.”
As part of, the House task force will also focus on other democracy and campaign-finance issues that are part of its larger “By the People” package and, further, will seek to “expose the GOP’s special-interest agenda.”
(Photo: AP/Timothy D. Easley) Union members look over the balcony as protesters fill the Kentucky Capitol rotunda to protest right-to-work legislation, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017, in Frankfort, Ky. W hile Donald Trump supporters celebrated their candidate’s massive upset on Election Day, Kentucky Republicans were joyous for an additional reason: They had just seized control of what had been the last majority Democratic legislative chamber in the South. For 95 years—all the way back to 1921, when Warren G. Harding was president—Kentucky Democrats had maintained control of the state House of Representatives. When Tea Party darling Matt Bevin, who ran as the “right-to-work” candidate, rode the national GOP wave and succeeded Democratic Governor Steve Beshear in 2014, the Kentucky House became the sole bulwark blocking the implementation of his anti-union agenda. Naturally, heading into the 2016 elections, the right wing turned all its firepower against the Democrats’ six-seat house majority...
Common Cause, a nonpartisan political advocacy and watchdog group, rarely wades into political nomination battles. In its nearly half-century of existence, the group has come out in staunch opposition to just a handful of nominees it found extraordinarily hostile to its core mission. Now it will oppose the confirmation of Trump’s expected nominee for attorney general, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, citing his troublesome record on voting rights.
“We do not believe and do not have confidence, because of his past history and actions, that he will enforce critical voting-rights laws,” Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn said during a meeting with reporters on Tuesday morning. “He has for decades been an outspoken critic of the Voting Rights Act, one of the country’s most critical pieces of civil and voting rights legislation.”
The group pointed to Sessions’s past statements calling the VRA a “piece of intrusive legislation,” to his approval of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to gut the law’s crucial Section 5, and to his failed legal crusade against three civil rights activists who were registering voters while he was a U.S. attorney in Alabama in the 1980s as evidence that the senator would be hostile toward robust voter protections.
“We believe that if he becomes attorney general, the Voting Rights Act is on the chopping block and many of the recent victories in the courts that we’ve seen that have struck down laws designed to suppress minority voting will be threatened under a Sessions-led Justice Department,” Hobart Flynn added.
Since 2010, 20 states have passed restrictive voting laws. The Obama DOJ’s Civil Rights Division has successfully challenged the legality of several of those voter-suppression laws that required photo identification or used racial gerrymandering to create redistricting maps. But Common Cause is concerned that a Sessions Justice Department would be far less vigilant in its enforcement of voting rights.
The group’s announcement that it will attempt to block Sessions’s nomination could hold some sway. It boasts a membership base of some 700,000 members with chapters in 35 states. Its grassroots strength was on full display earlier this week when it helped lead a constituent call-in campaign to Republican House members who wanted to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics.
Whether it can use that grassroots firepower to convince Sessions’s Republican Senate colleagues to vote against him will be a taller order. But Common Cause won’t be going it alone. On Monday, NAACP leaders staged a sit-in and were ultimately arrested in the senator’s Mobile office, calling on him to withdraw his name from consideration due to his voting-rights record and numerous allegations of racism.
Recent confirmations opposed by Common Cause include Reagan Supreme Court justice nominee Robert Bork in 1987 and George H.W. Bush defense secretary nominee John Tower in 1989, both of whom failed to get confirmed. It also opposed Reagan’s nomination of Attorney General Edwin Meese and George W. Bush’s Federal Election Commission member Hans von Spakovsky, both of whom succeeded in their confirmations.
(Photo: AP/Mark Lennihan) A FedEx driver loads Dell computers for delivery, Friday, Oct. 23, 2015 in New York. I t is now apparent to anyone paying attention that the trends driving the working and middle classes’ woes—from decades of expanding corporate power to the silencing of workers’ voices—will be exacerbated by the incoming Trump administration. Here are six charts from the Economic Policy Institute that underscore the systemic inequities for workers that will persist—and almost certainly worsen—under the right-wing doctrine of Trumponomics. The gap between productivity and worker pay continues to widen. During the postwar economic boom (in tandem with a strong organized labor movement), worker pay levels increased at the same pace as productivity. However, beginning around 1973, hourly compensation stagnated while productivity levels kept increasing. As the chart shows, productivity has increased more than 73 percent since 1973 while the average worker pay has increased just...
AP Photo/Jim Mone Representative Pat Garofalo speaking on the floor of the Minnesota House of Representatives. T he state of Minnesota—long a liberal bastion of the upper Midwest—could be the next target for the right’s nationwide effort to block any minimum wage increases by cities like Minneapolis that are higher than the state’s minimum of $9.50 an hour. In the months before the November election, progressive advocacy groups and a majority of the Minneapolis city council were pushing for a $15 minimum wage. Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges opposed it, however, saying she would prefer it if Democratic state legislators passed a bill mandating a higher regional minimum wage for the Twin Cities metro area instead. However, Election Day changed that political calculation when the Minnesota GOP expanded its majority in the state House ( with help from the Koch brothers ) and, in a huge upset, wrested control of the senate from the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party (the state Democratic party...