Schumer's demands: We need a hearing on what happened in Helsinki -- and we need Trump's tax returns

You can laugh this off if you like on grounds that Schumer has no power to force any of it and is unlikely to have it come January. But Pelosi might in the House. As such, it’s a sneak preview of what the second half of Trump’s term will look like if Democrats gain control of either chamber in Congress.

There’s little she could do to shake loose the tax returns, but haul Trump advisors, et al., before the House to find out if anything concerning happened behind the scenes in Helsinki — particularly in those mysterious two hours in which Trump and Putin were conversing alone with interpreters? Sure, why not? Even if they tried to decline answering on executive-privilege grounds, that would look shady under the circumstances and would be milked by Democrats for political gain.

It’s Schumer’s good fortune that the man in charge of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is both a Trump critic and retiring from politics this fall, leaving him with nothing to fear from taking the Democratic suggestions to quiz Trump staffers on the Putin summit. As chance would have it, one of the most important staffers is already scheduled to testify before the committee soon:

“You see people down on the floor scurrying around trying to find a way to push back against what has happened,” Mr. Corker said. “The dam has broken. What we’ve got to figure out is how do we deal with it, because the president in 15 minutes can foul up six months or a year of good will.”

Mr. Corker said he expected Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to testify before his committee next week. He called for a vote on legislation intended to give Congress a say on another foreign policy matter deeply dividing Republicans, the president’s implementation of national security tariffs. And he said that he was in discussions with Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, to try to advance a bill written with Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, that would create new sanctions authorities to punish Russia should it interfere this November.

There’s common ground between the parties on stiffening sanctions on Russia. Congress passed new sanctions last year over Trump’s objections; an easy way for Ryan and McConnell to signal a break with him on this issue would be to expand them further while POTUS is busy chasing the dream of a Russian reset. A more significant matter of potential cooperation, mentioned by Schumer in the clip, would be to pass something protecting Mueller from termination without the approval of a court. All you’d need in the Senate are 11 Republicans to join with Democrats to get it done, but (a) it’s likely impossible in the House per the Hastert Rule, (b) it would pit congressional Republicans squarely against Trump and his base on the Russiagate “witch hunt” right before the midterms, and (c) Trump would certainly veto it, forcing Ryan and McConnell to come up with two-thirds majorities in both houses to override the veto. A veto would look bad politically but Trump would claim a “neutral” reason for it, namely that he believes the legislation is unconstitutional as a violation of separation of powers by removing some of the president’s authority over the special counsel to another branch. I just don’t know how that bill passes without Dems in charge of both chambers.

As for the demand for Trump’s tax returns, George Will thought of that too today in a column entitled, er, “This sad, embarrassing wreck of a man”:

America’s child president had a play date with a KGB alumnus, who surely enjoyed providing day care. It was a useful, because illuminating, event: Now we shall see how many Republicans retain a capacity for embarrassment…

Americans elected a president who — this is a safe surmise — knew that he had more to fear from making his tax returns public than from keeping them secret. The most innocent inference is that for decades he has depended on an American weakness, susceptibility to the tacky charisma of wealth, which would evaporate when his tax returns revealed that he has always lied about his wealth, too. A more ominous explanation might be that his redundantly demonstrated incompetence as a businessman tumbled him into unsavory financial dependencies on Russians. A still more sinister explanation might be that the Russians have something else, something worse, to keep him compliant.

Schumer and Pelosi will never get a bill through Congress requiring presidential candidates to release their tax returns as long as Trump’s president, although I think it’s a reasonably safe bet that there’ll be bipartisan action on that once he’s out of office. The Republican establishment kicks itself every day for not having that law in place before 2016, having assumed that every presidential nominee would voluntarily disclose his or her returns as part of the campaign and would be pilloried by voters if they refused full transparency. If — if — there’s something scandalous in Trump’s returns, a statutory disclosure requirement might have spared them from the whole Trump phenomenon. Look for that bill sometime in 2021 or 2025, depending upon Trump’s own political fortunes. In the meantime, look to blue-state legislatures to pass something before 2020 requiring the release of state tax returns in order to qualify for ballot access. Would that law be constitutional? *Shrug*

Oh, amid all this, Pelosi is pushing a measure to condemn Trump for his Helsinki comments, which has zero chance of being brought to the floor in either chamber, let alone passing. Get in the game, Nancy.

David Strom 6:41 PM on September 26, 2022