House Democratic Leadership Holds News Conference CSPAN September 23, 2020 3:27pm-4:06pm EDT
house democrats held a news conference where they introduced legislation that would impose new checks on presidential power and toughen enforcement of ethics rules and congressional subpoenas. speaker nancy pelosi, intelligence committee chair adam schiff, along with the chairs of several committees addressed recent actions by president trump. good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us. i'm pleased to be joined today by the speaker and my fellow chairs to announce the introduction of the protecting our democracy act. in introducing this landmark bill, the house is taking another vitally important step in our determination to protect our democracy.
since taking office, donald trump has viewed the constraints on his power and the demand for basic transparency and accountability as an inconvenience. he has claimed extraordinary power, bent and broken the law and purposely undermi mined the rule of law. he's bound only by norms for which he has no interest. where he has found weakness he has exploited it. the house democratic caucus under leadership of the speaker and all the chairs represented here as well as many others has stood strong. we have defended the law, the constitution and our nation's values, even impeaching the president when he was caught abusing his power in an effort to extort a foreign partner for dirt on his opponent. today is the latest step in our critical effort to hold this president and all presidents accountab accountable. this bill is the culmination of many months of work by the
caucus to identify the most crucially needed reforms to our laws to constrain a lawless president. some of these reforms have been contemplated for years, others became necessary only when we witnessed the serial abuses of power by this president. this bill is essential, not just because donald trump's presidency has been so damaging, though it has been, but because we owe it to the american people to put in place meaningful constraints on power, fix what is broken, and ensure that there's never again another richard nixon or donald trump for either party. what has become painfully clear is that even in a dangerous world, the threat to our democracy from outside the country is less than the threat from within. the guardrails that have been built over the course of the country's history and strengthened after watergate have been shaken and broken. to take just one example, donald trump has abused the pardon power in a fashion that no previous president has ever done. the power to pardon or commute
sentences is embedded in the constitution and is one of the least restrained powers the president wields. a president may use this power to correct unjust sentences or to show mercy to those who have reformed, but instead this president has used it to reward his friends and cronies, even using it to commute the sentence of his long-term political adviser, roger stone, for lying to congress in an effort to cover up for president. this is not what the founders had in mind. that's why we've included a provision to turn the abuse of the pardon partner if it concerns a case that directly involves the president for their family. this is just one of many important provisions in the bill to prevent the abuse of presidential power, strengthen our system of checks and balances, and prevent interference in our elections. after watergate, congress enacted a series of landmark laws and reforms. they changed the way that politics was conducted. they established laws to prevent the abuse of authority and to
ensure that it would be discovered. we are taking a similar step today to restore checks and balances, to protect our elections, and to protect the legacy of our founders. with that, i'm pleased to turn this over to our leader, speaker pelosi. >> thank you very much, chairman schiff, for your great leadership and your excellent statement. i associate myself fully with your remarks, and i come to this podium to thank the chairs for the great work that they have done to protect our democracy. adam schiff, who led us in this discussion, chairman jerry nadler of the judiciary committee, carol maloney of the oversight and reform committee, chairman john harmon of the budget committee, chair love kin who will be with us virtually, chairman elliott engle from foreign affairs and chairman
richie neil, chair of the ways and means committee. our founders, in their wisdom, put guardrails into the constitution of the united states because they knew that someone might overplay his or her hand. they probably could not envision a president who would kick over the guardrails and that the senate of the united states would be complicit in that undermining of the constitution of the united states, ignoring, dishonoring the oath of office that we all take to protect and defend the constitution of the united states and everything that the constitution stands for. during this once in a generation moment, the congress has a sacred obligation for the people to defend the rule of law and restore accountability and basic ethics to the government, and that is exactly what we are doing with protect our democracy act. the legislative pact is sweeping
and designed to address the president's staggering litany of abuses and ensure that they can never happen again by anyone. this package is future focused, intended to restore checks and balances not only during this term but for any future president. our chairs have crafted a robust reforms package that can stand up and prevent an assault on our democracy including the abuse of the pardon power the distinguished mr. schiff had talked about, the soliciting of foreign interference in u.s. elections, the retalia tore attacks on whistle-blowers, politicization of the tools of justice, abuse of office for personal, personal enrichment, and contempt of congress' oversight powers on behalf of the american people including our lawful subpoena power. this is essential to our constitution, our system of checks and balances, separation
of powers, each branch of government having a check on other branches of government. it's sad that the president's actions have made this legislation necessary. as with other things, he gives us no choice. for centuries our presidents have shown a respect for the rule of law and the norms and the institutions that uphold our democracy. now america has a choice, to repair and strengthen our democracy or to look the other way and enable its actions. enablers, that's what those who support the president's actions are, enablers of undermining the constitution of the united states. let us recall the words of benjamin franklin. we've quoted them over and over. on the final day of the constitutional convention, he came out onto the steps of now called constitution hall as our constitution was adopted. as he descended the steps people asked, dr. franklin, what do we
have, a republic or a monarchy? he said, as you know, a republic, if we can keep it. this congress, article one of the constitution, the legislative branch, the first branch of government, will uphold our sovereign duty to keep our republic, including by passing this bill. with that i'm very pleased to yield to the distinguished chairman of the judiciary committee who has been a champion for decades on upholding our oath of office to the constitution of the united states, chairman nadler. i want to thank speaker pelosi, chairman schiff and the other distinguished chairs for their leadership in putting together the critical set of reforms contained in the protecting our democracy act.
the administration has exposed certain holes in our democracy by engaging in conduct that was once unthinkable. for example, the administration has defied congressional subpoenas time and again in investigations on topics ranging from the manipulation of the census and even during the impeachment process. not only has this administration refused to produce documents but it has ordered witnesses to refuse to appear all together on the grounds that they are supposedly immune from subpoenas. in fact, just this past monday night i received a letter from the justice department informing the judiciary committee that it will now categorically refuse to send key officials to our hearings because attorney general barr did not like the questions he was asked during his appearance before the committee in july. when congress is sued to enforce its rights in courts, we have been forced into a years-long
process to enable an administration that may simply run out the clock. it's been more than a year since we sued to compel the testimony of don mcgahn who detailed the president's pattern of obstruction of justice. that case continues to work its way through the courts. similar delays have greeted lawsuits for related grand jury materials for president trump's financial records and for other important information critical to our oversight work. that is why the protecting our democracy act incorporates congresswoman madeleine dean's bill which provides a streamlined process for the house and senate to enforce the subpoenas in the courts and to ensure that we can conduct proper oversight. we've also witnessed brazen efforts by the administration to undermine the rule of law by interfering with pending cases at the department of justice on matters that directly implicate the president. whether it was the roger stone sentencing, the michael flynn prosecution, or the russia investigation, the white house
has threatened, bullied and intimidated the department into doing the president's personal bidding. that is why the legislation includes the first ever requirement that the attorney general maintain a log of certain contacts at the white house for review by the inspector general and if necessary by congress. this builds on the legislation chairman jeffries has led this congress. when the nation's founders wrote the constitution they stood fast to a key principle, that the executive must be accountable to congress, to the people and ultimately to the rule of law. it is vital that we reassert this important principle. i am proud to join my colleagues in introducing the protecting our democracy act so that we may restore these and other checks and balances that are so fundamental to our democracy. >> as i bring on congresswoman maloney, i want to join the
distinguished chairman in acknowledging legislation of other members of congress that are contained in the chairman's legislation that they are putting forth and chairwoman's, and i want to acknowledge maxine waters is doing some very important work on this subject, not part of this package but part of preserving our democracy. with that i'm pleased to yield to the distinguished chairwoman of the government reform and oversight committee, madam chair, carol maloney. >> good morning, i'm proud to stand here with speaker pelosi and my colleagues in government, many of whom who are with us chairing committees that have produced this legislation and i'm very pleased to join them in introducing the protecting our democracy act to prevent presidential abuses of power and
strengthen advocacy and transparency and accountability. former oversight chairman elijah cummings often said we are in a fight for the soul of our democracy. we are witnessing a president who retaliates against whistle-blowers and inspectors general, obstructs investigations to root out waste, fraud and abuse, and openly mocks the law. it must stop. we have an obligation to take immediate action to rein in this terrible behavior. this landmark legislation will strengthen protections for inspector generals by only allowing an ig to be removed for specific reasons and prevent them from being fired for political retaliation. i introduced the inspector general independence act with majority leader hoyer and several other members after president trump retaliated
against inspectors general at the department of defense, the department of transportation, state department and other agencies. this package also increases protections for whistle-blowers who expose waste, fraud and abuse. the trump administration has gained -- engaged in a sustained assault on whistle-blowers. federal workers have been harassed, fired, embarrassed, demoted. i introduced the whistle-blower protection and improvement act along with oversight subcommittee chair jerry connolly to give whistle-blowers the opportunity to challenge retaliation in court and prohibit disclosing a whistle-blower's identity. whistle-blowers helped our committee expose abuses in the white house security clearance process. the administration's nuclear deal with saudi arabia and investigations into ethics
abuses and mismanagement at the postal service and the census department by administration officials. this package of reforms also closes loopholes that president trump has exploited by installing unqualified people as acting agency heads and inspector general. finally, the bill helps ensure that the line between official business and political activity is not erased. the trump administration has openly mocked and violated the hatch act. for example, former senior adviser, kellyanne conway, broke the law dozens of times and the office of the special council recommended that she be fired. president trump refused to act. recently he used the white house and other federal landmarks for partisan political purposes during the republican national convention. white house chief of staff mark
meadows said, and i quote, nobody outside the beltway really cares about the hatch act, end quote. he's wrong. taxpayers care. they expect their money to be used for legitimate government activities and not for partisan political campaigning. the protecting our democracy act authorizes the office of special council to fine senior political appointees up to $50,000 if they break the law and the president refuses to hold them accountable. this bill ensures that no one is above the law and that all employees are held accountable for their actions. now it is my honor to introduce the distinguished chair of the budget committee. >> thank you, madam chair. good morning, everyone. there is perhaps no clearer
intent of the framers of the constitution than that the congress of the united states should have the power of the purse, the power to decide how to raise and spend the people's money. that is the soul prerogative of the congress. the president's role as embodied in his oath of office is to faithfully execute the laws of the country. in this case, in the relevant case, congressional appropriations. on at least three different occasions congress tried to push back on that by setting some guardrails as we've mentioned several times already today. the first time in 1884 the anti-deficiency act which prohibits the president from spending money that has not been appropriated by congress, the
second time in 1974 when they created the -- we created the impalement control act which was to prevent the administration from not spending, from refusing to spend funding that has been prer appropriated by the congress. and then creating the government accountability office which is an independent agency whose mission is to oversee the spending activity of the various administrations. despite these guardrails, this undermining of congressional authority has continued to take place and i don't think there's ever been a more brazen violator of the power of the purse than donald trump. what's made it worse is it's not an advance of the times he's used it is not an advance of some philosophical agenda but his own personal political agenda. we saw that when we tried to
withhold funding for ukraine in order to get assistance in his re-election campaign. that brought one of the articles of impeachment that we passed in the house. when he's moved military funding to pay for the mexican wall rather than having the mexicans pay for it. he used military appropriated funds. even within the last ten days, threatening to withhold funding to cities whose policies he doesn't like and who thinks that they are an arc cal in some way. for all of these reasons, i introduced a bill called the congressional power of the purse act, and that is title 5 of the protecting our democracy act. it has three major tenants. it restores congress' central role in funding decisions. it increases transparency and accountability on behalf of the administration through omb, and it strengthens existing
budgetary law in a number of ways through reporting requirements, through requiring congressional gratification of decisions to withhold funding to require the department of justice to investigate any illegality that the government accountability office may find, and finally by imposing penalties on those who violate the law. unfortunately, the anti-deficiency act which again was passed in 1884 has authorized as penalties the empowerment of control act doesn't. if you violate the empowerment of control, okay, you broke the law. we strengthened the existing guardrails so we can reassert the power of congress to raise and spend the people's money. it's now my privilege to introduce a video with chairwoman lofgren.
years ago i worked on the staff of my predecessor. one of my assignments was working with the judiciary committee on the impeachment of president richard nixon. after president nixon resigned, through a of landmark laws and reforms to change the way politics was conducted and to prevent a future president from similarly abusing the power of his office. these measures prevented executive abuses, increased transparency, and ethics requirements through campaign finance disclosure and enhanced congressional oversight. in large part, they worked pretty well until now. president trump throughout his term of office has shown zero regard to the safeguards designed to protect our democracy and the rule of law. in fact, he's subverted them. today as it was in the time of
richard nixon, it's now necessary for the congress to enact new reforms that restore our system of checks and balances. an important aspect of these reforms is to protect our elections from foreign interference. most americans already now that if a foreign adversary reaches out about interfering with elections, we should report that contact. instead the trump campaign and white house have welcomed and repeatedly solicited foreign assistance for the president's political activities. the protecting our democracy act creates a duty to report offers of assistance from foreign governments. it requires political committees, candidates and their family members to report foreign offers of assistance to federal authorities. the bill also clarifies that the definition of, quote, a thing of
value, unquote, in the federal election campaign act, includes a prohibition on foreign donations of information that is sought or obtained for political advantage. information like opposition research and private polling. this ensures that individuals engaging in dishonest conduct with foreign actors to influence the outcome of our elections are held accountable. the past four years have shown that the congress and the american people face a lawless president and reform is needed. together, the proposals laid out by my colleagues here today reflect our determination to ensure that the foundation of our democracy enshrined in our constitution will be sustained for generations to come. >> chairman engle.
>> let me thank the distinguished speaker and my fellow chairs. looking around at my colleagues, it occurs to me, it's remarkable what the house committees have done to shine a light on this administration's abuses and corruption since democrats won back the house. whether it was the president's obstruction of the investigation into the trump/russia scandal, the firing of independent inspectors general, the mistreatment of career public servants or the corruption of our foreign policy that lead to the president's impeachment, house democrats have worked tirelessly to demand accountability. let's be clear, nothing we've accomplished, none of the answers we've gotten for the american people or the abuses that we've uncovered are because this administration respects
congress's oversight authority as a coequal branch of government. it's quite the opposite. we've been fortunate that in some cases, dedicated public servants have come forward, public servants who knew they might face bullying, harassment, retaliation, maybe from the president himself, that was especially true during impeachment. but the president and those around him think they're above the law. i've been here for a while now. for most of that time, a subpoena was a chairman's tool of last resort. that's because for most of that time, administrations understood congress's oversight role. even if they weren't happy about it, trump threw all of that out the wind. i signed a subpoena during the impeachment hearing that mike
pompeo ignored. so how can one branch exercise constitutional checks and balances when another branch doesn't seem to care about the constitution? this behavior has set up a profoundly dangerous precedent. i hope the pendulum swings back, but we're not willing to take that risk. this legislation we're offering gives our oversight tools sharper teeth. tools to enforce our subpoenas, expedite judicial processes, fines for government officials who refuse to comply. i hope these tools won't be necessary, but it's clear that congress needs to stand up and reassert our power as a coequal branch of government. let me now yield to the chairman of the committee on ways and means, mr. neil.
>> thank you. thanks to the speaker and thanks to our fellow chairs for bringing us to this moment. our founders very wisely established a system of checks and balances to prevent against u abuses as power. the concept is as hold as magna carta. it's a reminder that the american revolution was the ability of the people to question the executive ruler. we are seeing a fundamental system that is now being put to test. president trump and the administration have sought to evade accountability and eliminate transparency. there's a reason that in article 1 of our constitution that congress is mentioned as the first branch of the government and our ability to conduct oversight is a critical component of legislating. over and over again, the trump
administration has sought to impede that final work. the abduction the package that's being introduced today strengthens the critical protections that underpin our democracy. one issue that some of my colleagues have touched upon that i want to emphasize and reinforce is the role of the congressional subpoena. congressional subpoenas are not requests that recipients and brush aside. they're indispensable as a tool that this body uses to investigate potential wrongdoing and inform our legislative work and to prevent future abuses. today's legislation protecting our democracy act strengthens the enforceability of congressional subpoenas and underscores that compliance and remains not simply an option. the rule of law applies to every single person in this country, including the president and members of the administration. we are here today to reinforce and reiterate our commitment to
the law and our belief in the fundamental tenants of our democracy and our duty to ensure that government remains accountable to the american people. >> i want to thank my fellow chairs and the speaker who has to go onto other responsibilities. we're happy to take a few questions. before we do, though, i want to acknowledge the work of other members of the caucus. this package is a cumulative work product of our great many of our members and joining in that effort and reflected in the bill itself is the work of representative cohen, representative conley, representative dean, representative jeffries, representative lieu, representative raskin, representative scanlon, representative speier, and
representative swalwell. with that, we will be happy to respond to your questions. yes? >> reporter: are there plans to bring up this package in this congress or wait until next year? >> it will depend on the availability of legislative time. i would hope we can bring up the package this year. but i think our expectation is whether we can bring it up this year or not, it's unlikely to move through a senate which has under senator mcconnell's leadership been a willing police accomplice to many of the actions that have broken down these guardrails and institutions. we're not optimistic but i will say this, these reforms will have bipartisan support next year when my gop colleagues will not want to see a democratic president do half the things of the current president. while i don't expect to see gop
support, i expect these reforms will enjoy bipartisan support in the future. >> reporter: presidential candidate joe biden says he opposes packing the court. do you agree with him? >> well, the issue on the supreme court goes beyond the scope of anything in this package. i will leave it to the senate counterparts to address that issue. but i will say this. the package does seek to address one of the same problems which is the degradation of our democracy over the last three years is not the work of the president alone. donald trump could not have accomplished what he has in terms of undermining our democracy without the willing help of gop partners in the senate. our system, our constitution requires two parties to defend the institutions of the congress and that wills a coequal branch of government, the supreme court and the courts.
if the senate is going to violate its own rules, if senator mcconnell is going to violate the rule that bears his own name and stack the court in the last few weeks before the election, that will be something that the senate will have to remedy and is beyond the purview of this package. any other questions? >> have you had any time to look at the report that came out on hunter biden and burisma? >> i've had a chance to read the press reporting of it. and, you know, all i can say, the kremlin is very pleased. after all, this advances a narrative that has its origins in the kremlin and has been propagated by agents in ukraine. more than that, as senator johnson has repeatedly admitted, the point of the report is a political one, to have an impact on the election. and the idea, again, that taxpayer resources are used for
a political purpose is something that we address in our hatch act provisions in this bill. but, of course, if you have willing members of the senate who are using taxpayer resources to advance a kremlin-originated smear, there's little we can do if senators are willing to participate in that. >> have you had any discussions with vice president biden or anyone on his team about whether or not he would endorse something like this? you're framing this as a reassertion of congressional power, but another way to look at it, the erosion of executive power. is there any pushback from them that perhaps you're stealing their power just as they might take the white house? >> you know, i think the vice president has spoken repeatedly about the priority that he places on restoring our
democratic institutions. while we haven't discussed the provisions of this bill, he's supportive of the concept underlying this legislation, we need to strengthen the guardrails of our democracy and i know he's criticized a lot of the actions that this bill seeks to protect against. so we look forward to working with the vice president in what we open and expect will be a new administration to make this law and make sure that no president can again violate the rule of law the way the current president has. >> how quickly would you want to bring it up under president biden? >> i view this as a natural sequel to hr-1, the package of reforms designed is to strengthen our franchise. the foundational right of our democracy is the right to vote. and so hr-1 very squarely addresses efforts to suppress
the vote, disenfranchise communities of color, gerrymandering in the different states, dark money in elections. this i think is a natural follow-on to that as it protects democratic institutions. let me invite my colleagues to respond to any of the questions. >> vice president biden did speak with the senate democratic caucus last week. have there been any conversations with the overall house democratic caucus about what the relationship between a president biden and a house democratic caucus would be should he win the presidency? has there been general conversations about that? >> not that i'm privy to, but that doesn't mean that's happening. let me invite my colleagues if they would like to add onto any of the comments or questions that we've heard from the press?
let me step aside. >> let me say one thing. vice president biden, when he served with president obama was constantly coming to our caucus and speaking to us. he was -- there was a -- he was friends with so many people. he had worked on so many issues. i proudly worked with him when he authored the violence against women act. so he has a tremendously strong relationship, i would say, with the congress and the senate given his service. i had the occasion to hear him speak on zoom to some of my constituents last night and he was very strong on all of these reform principles. he didn't specifically mention this bill, but the soul of our democracy and returning us to respect in the world and respect
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