The 116th Congress — dubbed the most progressive and most diverse Congress in U.S. history — officially came to order on Thursday, and members of Congress have wasted no time introducing legislation and scheduling hearings to provide oversight over the White House.
With the Democrats in control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 2011 and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) wielding the gavel, the party is intent on using their new power to advance progressive ideas while investigating the Trump administration.
“[The American people] want a Congress that delivers results for the people, opening up opportunity and lifting up their lives,” Pelosi said during her speech before the new Congress. “When our new members take the oath, our Congress will be refreshed, and our democracy will be strengthened by the optimism, idealism, and patriotism of this transformative freshman class.”
“This House will be for the people! Empowered by our mandate, we will pursue our mission,” she added.
In May 2016, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, was the first member of Congress to introduce legislation that would require presidential nominees to release their tax returns. President Donald Trump has consistently refused to release his tax returns, something every previous presidential nominee has done voluntarily. On Thursday, Wyden renewed the demand for Trump’s tax returns and reintroduced the legislation.
“It’s not just a matter of the president destroying a good-government campaign tradition. Week after week more questions are raised about Trump’s financial connections that could influence his foreign and tax policy decision making,” Wyden said in a statement. “This legislation is the one-two punch needed to keep the Trump administration from stonewalling congressional oversight efforts, and ensure public transparency if Trump’s tax returns get tied up in court.”
In order for the legislation to apply to the tax returns Trump has refused to release, the bill would require elected presidents to release their most recent three years of tax returns to the Office of Government Ethics (OGE). It would also require that within 15 days of becoming the nominee at the party convention, future presidential nominees must release their most recent three years of tax returns to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
In his first move as Judiciary Committee chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) introduced legislation Thursday intended to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is currently investigating possible collusion between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign. This bill is similar to one that failed in the Republican-controlled House last year in that it would allow to Mueller, if he were to be fired, to challenge his dismissal in federal court. It also would preserve all of the work Mueller conducted before his firing.
“For the last two years, House Republican leadership sat idly by, and often joined in, as President Trump attempted more than once to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller and launched serious attacks on senior Department of Justice officials in an effort to end the Russia investigation,” Nadler wrote in a joint statement with co-sponsors Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) and Steve Cohen (D-TN). “Now is the time for Congress to finally act and pass this legislation to protect the integrity of the Special Counsel’s investigation and the rule of law.”
As far as congressional hearings are concerned, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NY), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has already scheduled his first three hearings. The first will examine the environmental and economic impacts of climate change. The second will asses the impact of a U.S. district judge’s decision last year to strike down the Affordable Care Act. The third hearing will investigate the failures and impact of the Trump administration’s family separation policy.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), who is set to chair the House Appropriations subcommittee that holds jurisdiction over the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has also suggested that providing oversight over the administration’s treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border is a top priority this session. In a similar vow to provide oversight, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), newly-appointed chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, said at some point this year he plans to call upon former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to testify about his many ethics violations.