Democrats have once again made clear their intentions to paint a target on the legacy of the former president, Donald Trump. At a press conference on Tuesday, September 21, House Democrats – led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) – announced the Protecting Our Democracy Act, a bill meant to rein in and “prevent future presidential abuses of power, restore our system of checks and balances, and protect elections from foreign interference.”
According to sources on Capitol Hill, House Dems planned and coordinated the bill’s scope with the Biden administration. Skeptics already view the bill as an occasion of partisan vengeance-seeking against the former president, whose use of presidential powers allowed him to find ways to fulfill his agenda without always relying on Congress.
Since Trump departed from office, leading Democrats have repeatedly demonstrated their intention to pursue vengeance. Since his inauguration, President Joe Biden has endlessly criticized Trump as an authoritarian figure for the elaborate ways he used executive orders and national emergency declarations to bypass legislative gridlock. Despite this, the sitting president’s first 100 days in office were defined by the vast array of executive orders and department memos sent out in his crusade against climate change, border security, and COVID-19.
A Clear Reproach
Details of the Protecting Our Democracy Act have already been made public. Speaker Pelosi immediately touted the bill as a remedy for future executive abuse, listing off several potential reforms included in the bill once introduced to Congress. The bill’s text clearly references events from the Trump presidency that immensely angered Democrats, promising to dissuade or outright prevent the kinds of actions Trump took while in office.
The proposed legislation would reportedly make it more difficult for presidents to pardon closely affiliated individuals (Roger Stone), restrict administration use of executive privilege to ignore subpoenas, freeze funds not directly approved by Congress (border wall funding), and prevent retaliation against whistleblowers (Alexander Vindman).
Though the bill’s specifics are indeed meant to chastise Trump’s actions, congressional Republicans may not be wholly opposed to the content. After all, Barack Obama granted clemency to and pardoned violent revolutionaries, tax evaders, and leakers of classified information. Many Americans tend to resent the commutations and pardons unilaterally enacted by politicians preparing to leave office. Similarly, most Americans now seem opposed to the retaliations that have taken place against controversial whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. For these reasons, it seems likely that any legislation limiting presidential powers could gain significant approval in Congress. This move would also follow recent precedent from dozens of Democrats who came out in support of rescinding Biden’s control over the nuclear launch codes.
Prior attempts to pass similar overhauls of executive power failed to gain traction in previous sessions of Congress. Now, Adam Schiff claims to be pushing for a vote on the proposed bill this fall, though no further plans regarding its introduction to the House floor have been made. The bill will likely spark debate between constitutional conservatives always seeking to rein in executive powers and Trump’s own conservative allies still in Congress, who might push back against any perceived slights for the former president’s actions.
~ Read more from Jose Backer.