‘The Least Transparent Administration in Modern History’
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-New York), filed a resolution of inquiry on Thursday, Feb. 9, asking the Department of Justice (DOJ) to provide Congress with any and all information from any investigations into President Donald Trump’s conflicts of interest and ethical violations.
Nadler, a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, announced in a statement that the goal is to force the Republican-held legislation to vote to provide oversight on these issues — since they have shown “zero willingness” to do so on their own.
“We must conduct oversight of the least transparent administration in modern history,” Nadler said Thursday. “This resolution represents a start.”
Nadler’s legislative tactic skirts the normal procedures of the House — which allows legislation to languish in committee at the discretion of its chair. His bill, though, is written in such a way that it must be brought to the House floor for a vote within 14 days if not reported by the relevant committee.
Trump has been criticized for, among others things, flouting the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which bars him from benefiting financially or otherwise from his extensive business dealings abroad.
“Donald Trump has refused to step away from his business interests in any meaningful way, his foreign entanglements are likely unconstitutional, he has repeatedly refused to disclose his financial assets, and he is clouded by the specter of Russian intervention in the election and his Administration,” Nadler said Thursday.
The Strategy Behind a Resolution of Inquiry
A resolution of inquiry is a request by a member of the House to the president or the head of any cabinet-level department for information. According to an analysis by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), they have been filed a few hundred times since 1947. The last one to make it to the floor was in 1995, when the House voted 407-21 to order President Bill Clinton to release documents related to a multibillion dollar aid package to Mexico after its 1994 currency crisis.
The strategy is one principally used by minority parties in Congress, the CRS analysis says. Between 1947 and 2011, 217 of the 290 resolutions of inquiry filed were introduced by members of Congress from the president’s opposition party.
And, only one of the 82 resolutions of inquiry filed between 2001 and 2011 was authored by a member of Congress from the same political party as the president. That is likely because the majority parties control committee hearings and the floor agenda, and thus have the greater ability to pass legislation in the lower chamber.
No, Trump Is Not Being Impeached
While some believe that Nadler’s filing is the first signal that Trump could be impeached, that is an unlikely outcome.
The process of impeachment begins in the House, when either a member introduces a bill of impeachment, or the House authorizes a resolution of inquiry into impeachment. The House Judiciary Committee then has to vote on whether to proceed with an inquiry into impeachment, which must then be authorized by a vote in the full House. Since both the committee and the full House are now held by Republicans, a majority voting in favor of an impeachment inquiry seems unlikely.
Even if such votes were to happen, the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee would also have to investigate the case for impeachment by, among other actions, holding hearings and, eventually, voting on specific impeachment charges to be considered by the full House. For a vote to impeach Trump to make it to the full floor — like it did in the cases of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton — four of the 24 Republican members of the committee would need to break with their party and vote with their Democrat colleagues.
If impeachment then made it to a full floor vote, 24 members of the GOP would have to break from the party and vote for impeachment — which is akin to a criminal indictment — before Trump would be tried before members of the Senate. To be removed from office, a supermajority (two-thirds) of the GOP-led Senate would have to vote in favor of convicting him.
Given that the GOP’s top brass, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), are highly satisfied with Trump so far, that seems even less likely than impeachment. Clinton, notably, was impeached but not convicted by the Senate.
Though Thursday’s resolution of inquiry joins a loud drumbeat from the left of calls for Trump’s impeachment, the move is probably not going to remove the president from office. For Nadler, it may be more powerful in calling attention to issues or forcing legislative action than anything else.