Senate Democrats plan to file legislation next week insisting that President-elect Donald Trump sell off his business stakes and place his assets in a blind trust — or they will treat all his business dealings as potential violations of the Constitution.
The resolution, which the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.), plans to introduce next week, comes as Trump is facing fire for adding meetings with business partners to his presidential transition schedule, including his children — who are supposed to be running Trump’s business after his inauguration — in meetings with foreign heads of state and allegedly encouraging foreign diplomats to stay at his new Washington hotel.
It is effectively a warning shot from Democrats, who could use claims of constitutional impropriety to build a case against Trump, potentially even to the point of attempting impeachment proceedings.
But Democrats will need the cooperation of Republicans to put such a measure on the floor — and it is unlikely that the GOP will be inclined to schedule such a vote during the few weeks remaining in the jam-packed “lame duck” session.
Even if Cardin gains support for his legislation, the “sense of the Congress” resolution would not bind Trump to divest his business interests.
Although past presidents have taken such measures to avoid the appearance of impropriety, there is only one explicit constitutional prohibition that could cause problems for Trump: the Emoluments Clause, which says that no one holding office can accept foreign gifts “of any kind whatever” without the consent of Congress.
Though the Trump transition team maintains that it can avoid any problems, Democrats warn that the Trump Organization’s foreign holdings and dealings will put the president-elect precariously close to that constitutional line.
Democrats are hoping that with this resolution they can compel Trump to sell his business stakes and put the money in a blind trust, or take equivalent steps to remove any potential for a conflict of interest.
“Unless he takes appropriate action, Mr. Trump’s many international financial interests pose a great risk of violating the Constitution once he assumes the Presidency of the United States,” Cardin said in a statement announcing his resolution. “He should provide the American people with clarity and certainty that he will in no way, shape or form use the office of the President to advance his substantial personal fortune.”
But Republicans have not yet expressed any support for the measure. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that it would be impossible, at this point, to determine whether there would be unanimous consent to consider the resolution.
In general, however, Republican leaders have been noticeably quiet about the mounting concerns involving Trump’s foreign holdings — though a Republican member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Justin Amash (Mich.), said Monday night in a tweet directed at Trump, “You rightly criticized Hillary for Clinton Foundation. If you have contracts w/foreign govts, it’s certain a big deal, too.”
Over in the House, Democrats have not filed a resolution but are echoing demands that Trump dispose of his business interests and place his assets in a blind trust — and are pushing him to disclose his records as he separates his finances from the Trump Organization.
“The President-elect must demonstrate to the American people that he is not using the power of his presidency to enhance his business interests. This is a big deal,” the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot L. Engel (N.Y.), said Tuesday in a statement. “Leaders in Congress should demand that these conditions be met before we consider any part of the Trump agenda. Otherwise we will have no idea who stands to benefit from his proposed policies.”