Targeting federal spending at properties owned by President Trump, the House on Wednesday passed legislation that would bar the White House and other federal entities from doing business with Trump-affiliated establishments.
The provision, which could greatly complicate Trump’s routine visits to his various properties, was included in a $24 billion appropriations bill for various federal agencies that passed on a 224-196 vote largely along party lines. The Senate has not acted on its corresponding bill, and the Republican majority there is unlikely to agree to include it in any spending legislation that ultimately becomes law.
But the amendment sponsored by Democratic Reps. Steve Cohen (Tenn.), Jamie B. Raskin (Md.), Mark DeSaulnier (Calif.) and Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.) sends a message to the White House over the propriety of taxpayer funds going to Trump’s businesses.
It says that none of the agencies funded in the bill — including the Executive Office of the President, which handles presidential travel arrangements — may “enter into any new contract, grant, or cooperative agreement” with any of dozens of listed entities.
Those entities include companies listed on Trump’s annual financial disclosure report as well as other properties listed on the Trump Organization’s website.
Federal spending at Trump’s properties has drawn scrutiny from the attorneys general in Maryland and the District of Columbia. They have sued Trump, accusing him of violating the Constitution’s prohibition against presidents receiving extra gifts or payments — known as emoluments — from the federal government outside his presidential salary.
How much the government — or the White House — has spent at Trump properties since he entered office isn’t fully known. Most of the records available about government spending date to the first half of 2017, covering just the first few months of Trump’s presidency so far.
During that time period, The Washington Post found $145,000 in government payments to three Trump businesses — Mar-a-Lago; a golf club in Bedminster, N.J.; and the golf resort in Turnberry, Scotland — that appeared connected to Trump’s visits.
For instance in February 2017, when Trump made his first presidential visit to Mar-a-Lago, the Defense Department paid $12,000 for rooms at the club, according to invoices, emails and other records obtained by the advocacy group Property of the People.
Cohen cited The Washington Post’s reporting on the subject while presenting the amendment on the House floor Wednesday and said Trump was in violation of the constitutional prohibition on presidents accepting emoluments.
“From Day 1, they have been making money, and they have also been advertising their product,” he said. “Every time they advertise Trump properties, they are using the government as a way to expand the president’s wealth.”
Republicans dismissed the provision as a political feint. “It’s really nothing more than a partisan attack on the administration and an attempt to make their lives a little more difficult,” said Rep. Tom Graves (Ga.), the top Republican on the Appropriations subcommittee handling the bill.
Last week, the House passed a separate bill that included language banning the State Department from spending money at Trump-branded properties, which could affect Trump’s foreign trips if signed into law.
But other government agencies have been found spending taxpayer dollars at Trump properties as well, leading the attorneys general for D.C. and Maryland to prepare subpoenas for five federal agencies, including the departments of Commerce and Agriculture.
The suit argues that because of the “significance of federal government spending and operations and the president’s significant role in determining how, when, and where federal funds are spent,” Trump has a conflict of interest that violates the Constitution’s domestic ‘emoluments’ clause.
Trump’s attorneys deny he has accepted any emoluments, and the case is under appeal, delaying the subpoenas.