Washington — In response to Donald J. Trump’s norm-busting presidency, Democrats introduced and Republicans unanimously opposed a package of presidential power restrictions in the House on Thursday.
The Protecting Our Democracy Act, which would place new restrictions on executive power, was approved by a vote of 220 to 208 that was almost entirely along party lines. As a result of their association with President Trump, many of the measures sought by supporters of tighter government ethics have been recast as partisan issues.
A “rogue president” trampled over the guardrails protecting our Republic during the last administration, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, said. A president of any party can never repeat the abuses of the past because Congress now has the solemn responsibility and opportunity to protect our democracy.
Legislation would force presidential candidates to release their tax returns, which Mr. Trump has refused to do.
As a result of this legislation, the Constitution’s prohibition on presidents receiving emoluments, or payments, would be strengthened. His refusal to sell his hotels raised the possibility that lobbyists and other governments who began paying for rooms at Trump resorts—and sometimes not using them—were trying to buy his support because of it.
Proposals in the Russia investigation, such as when Trump Jr. and other senior campaign officials met with Russians they were told had dirt on Clinton at Trump Tower, would also be required to be reported to the F.B.I. under the bill.
The bill now moves to the Senate, where Republicans have the ability to block it if it receives 60 votes. During the House debate on the bill, Kentucky Republican Rep. James Comer declared that “no apparent path for the bill in the Senate” existed.
It is hoped that by breaking up the bill and attaching different parts to other Senate bills, Republicans who have previously supported certain parts of it will once again gain bipartisan support.
Additionally, it would make it more difficult for presidents to grant pardons based on bribery. It would establish new safeguards against the arbitrary dismissal of inspectors general or the retaliation of whistleblowers. With this legislation, it would be difficult for a president to spend or freeze funds in defiance of Congress.
Lawsuits over subpoenas would be sped up, Justice Department logs of White House contacts would be provided to Congress, and the Hatch Act would be strengthened to prevent federal employees from engaging in campaign politics while on the clock at work.
Senate Democrats’ lack of confidence in the Biden administration has also slowed the legislation’s progress. It was announced that the White House supports the legislation, citing “the formidable but essential challenge of reinforcing the norms and safeguards that prevent our democracy from eroding.”
Protect Democracy’s founder and executive director, Ian Bassin, praised the White House for supporting the legislation despite the fact that it would curtail executive authority. The group worked with House Democrats to develop some of the bill’s provisions.
President Obama and Vice President Biden should be commended for agreeing to support legislative limits on their own power, according to Bassin. “Now that the White House has announced its support, it needs to work with the Senate promptly to enact these provisions,” Mr. Bassin added.
In any event, the White House’s statement was not completely unrestricted. Without mentioning any specific provisions, it included the vague caveat that the administration would continue to work with Congress to ensure that the bill would uphold “the longstanding interests of the executive branch that are essential to effective governance, efficient use of taxpayer resources, and consistency with our constitutional structure.
Negotiations with House Democrats had taken months before the package was unveiled in September, and some of their original ideas had been dropped in response to the White House’s constitutional or policy objections. People familiar with the situation say that Democrats insisted on keeping some provisions that the administration had expressed concerns about, including making it more difficult for presidents to fire inspectors general.”
To fix flaws in the American system of separation of powers exposed by the Trump administration, Democrats in the House of Representatives spent nearly four hours debating the bill and its amendments.
Adam B. Schiff, a Democrat from California and the bill’s primary sponsor, said, “Our system was founded on a respect for the rule of law and an intricately constructed balance of powers among the three branches.” For centuries, that system has been put to the test. And just as Congress worked to enact reforms following the Watergate scandal, we must now examine and address the cracks in the democratic foundation. This bill accomplishes that goal.”
Restrictions on immigration, high gas prices, and voter fraud were among the topics discussed by Republican lawmakers in the wake of the investigation into President Trump’s alleged ties to Russian oligarchs.
Rep. Mary Miller, a Republican from Illinois, said, “This bill is nothing but a continuation of the Democrats’ obsession with President Trump.”
It was unclear to what extent Democrats wanted the bill to be seen as a threat to President Trump. In some instances, they insisted that it was about the future, highlighting the fact that he was no longer president and that many provisions of the bill had Republican support in other contexts.
Joe Biden is now our president,” said Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York, who chaired her party’s debate. It will have an impact on his administration and future presidents of both parties, she added. Our democracy’s future is not about the past, but rather the future and its improvement.”
Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, continued to highlight Trump’s record of misconduct, and both parties’ legislators speculated whether he might run for president again in the future. It was an unavoidable political fact that the bill was interpreted in part as a referendum on Mr. Trump’s actions.
“Aside from the Democrats’ neurotic obsession with all things Donald Trump, this bill has many provisions that would receive bipartisan support if the bill’s author were so inclined,” said Rep. Tom McClintock, a Republican of California.