Until President Trump.
With a lawless president in office who acts as if rules are for suckers, political norms for losers and governing for chumps, it is clear we need a new series of reforms to protect our democracy.
On Wednesday, we are introducing such reforms, which we began drafting more than a year ago not only to address the president’s unique abuses, but also to go beyond them to restore accountability, root out corruption and ensure transparency in government for future White House occupants.
First, we seek to further enshrine the principle that no one is above the law, especially the president. For this reason, we must ensure that presidents cannot use the pardon power to insulate themselves, their family or associates, or to outrun statutes of limitations simply by staying in office.
Our bill requires that the Justice Department provide materials to Congress concerning any self-serving pardon or commutation in cases involving presidents or their relatives, contempt of Congress or obstruction of Congress. Our bill also suspends statutes of limitations for any federal offense committed by a sitting president or vice president, whether it took place before or during their terms in office, to ensure that future presidents cannot “run out the clock” to avoid accountability.
We will also take action to prohibit presidents and their families from abusing the office to enrich themselves, by providing an enforcement mechanism for violations of the emoluments clauses, increasing penalties and enhancing financial disclosure requirements.
Second, we seek to restore our system of checks and balances and strengthen accountability and transparency. Trump has obstructed congressional oversight, targeted whistleblowers who speak out against him and fired officials whose responsibility is to objectively investigate wrongdoing in the federal government.
Congress needs to obtain documents and hear from witnesses to do our jobs. Our bill will strengthen Congress’s tools to expeditiously enforce subpoenas in court, and will enhance foundational budget laws, such as the Impoundment Control Act, by adding meaningful reporting requirements and improving congressional oversight.
We must also reclaim Congress’s power of the purse from an overzealous executive branch, increase transparency around government spending and ensure there are consequences to deter the misuse of taxpayer funds. Our bill will prevent the executive branch from using nonpublic documents or secret legal opinions to circumvent Congress and unilaterally enact its agenda behind closed doors. Our bill will impose limits on presidential declarations of emergencies and any powers triggered by such declarations, unless extended by a congressional vote, and require the president to provide all documents regarding presidential emergency actions to Congress.
We must also strengthen safeguards meant to keep public officials from using their positions to benefit the president politically or personally. To do this, our bill would require additional reporting of communications between the Justice Department and the White House; prohibit at-will firing of inspectors general; grant whistleblowers the right to sue in court if they are publicly outed; amend the qualification requirements for acting officials of executive agencies and limit their tenure to 120 days; and strengthen the penalties for Hatch Act violations for senior political appointees.
The president’s unprecedented and largely successful efforts to stonewall Congress through the courts, including preventing oversight of his financial entanglements and conflicts of interest, demonstrate both the need to provide an effective system of oversight in the courts and to obtain more information so we can continue to refine and develop these and other reforms.
And finally, we seek to protect our elections from foreign interference and influence. We must require that all campaigns report offers of help from foreign governments and foreign political parties to law enforcement. We must also provide unequivocal language in statute that campaigns cannot accept foreign help or information for political advantage, including opposition research.
This is where we begin, but it is not where we will end. Democrats have already passed landmark reforms to expand and protect the right to vote, limit the influence of big money in politics and create a more transparent, accountable and ethical government. Now we take an important step further, to strengthen our democratic institutions from an unscrupulous executive.
The damage Trump has carelessly inflicted on our democracy cannot be completely undone, but it can be stopped. Like the reforms passed after Watergate rocked our nation, the critical reforms we are introducing today may take time to come to fruition. But they will become law when elected representatives choose to protect our democracy and uphold their oaths of office — even if the person who occupies the Oval Office does not.