Democrats are trying to use the power of the purse to legally prevent President Trump from profiting from the federal government spending money at his businesses.
Two annual spending bills House Democrats have brought to the floor to keep the government funded past September include provisions that would prohibit certain federal agencies from entering into contracts with or using taxpayer dollars at Trump businesses, including his hotels, golf courses and condominiums across the globe.
But the effort faces opposition from Republicans who dismiss it as a “partisan stunt” that could jeopardize the president’s security. That will likely make it difficult for the bills to become law in negotiations with the GOP-controlled Senate.
Nonetheless, the authors of the proposal, Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), are submitting it as an amendment to every annual spending bill hitting the House floor.
“The fact is when we stay at his hotels and his properties, he makes money. Nobody is supposed to make money from the presidency, directly or indirectly, and they are supposed to report these possibilities to the Congress so we have knowledge,” Cohen said during a House floor debate.
The White House did not reply to a request for comment from The Hill.
The House passed a spending package this past week that would ban the State Department from spending money at Trump businesses. Cohen and Raskin’s amendment was adopted largely along party lines, 231-187, as part of a group of amendments en bloc.
During floor debate on another spending package this week, the House adopted a similar amendment from Cohen and Raskin that applies to the Justice and Commerce departments by voice vote.
President Trump retains ownership of his businesses but has handed off day-to-day operations to his two sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump.
A recent report by The Washington Post showed that Trump’s trips to his properties since becoming president have brought his private businesses at least $1.6 million in revenue from the federal government and GOP campaigns.
But the amount is likely much higher given that most government spending records date to just the first half of 2017.
Trump, for example, frequently travels to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla.
During his first presidential visit in February 2017, the Defense Department paid $12,000 for rooms at the club, according to the Post. Two months later, the federal government paid Mar-a-Lago at least $30,000 for meeting rooms and hotel lodgings for top officials during a visit from Chinese President Xi Jinping.
ProPublica reported that Mar-a-Lago sent the State Department a $1,000 bill for Trump aides’ drinks at a bar during Xi’s visit. The State Department objected to covering the bill and sent it to the White House, which paid it off.
USA Today also found in 2017 that the Secret Service spent at least $59,585 on golf cart rentals to protect Trump at Mar-a-Lago and Bedminster, N.J.
Earlier this month, Trump added a trip to his golf resort in Doonbeg, Ireland, between official visits to the United Kingdom and France. He met with the Irish prime minister while in Ireland but then flew to France for D-Day commemorations and back to Doonbeg before returning to Washington.
“We’re going to be staying at Doonbeg in Ireland because it’s convenient and it’s a great place. But it’s convenient,” Trump said at the time, according to the Post.
And after holding a rally in Orlando, Fla., to launch his reelection campaign this past week, Trump stayed at his Doral golf resort near Miami. Republican National Committee officials co-hosted a fundraiser for Trump’s reelection at the resort the next day.
A former ethics adviser for the Trump Organization told The Washington Post that Trump’s properties don’t seek to make a profit from the government and have charged discounted rates.
But Democrats nevertheless argue that presidents’ family businesses shouldn’t be able to profit from the federal government in such a fashion.
Cohen previously submitted his amendments to spending bills in 2017 and 2018, but they weren’t granted floor time by the GOP leaders who controlled the House at the time.
“It’s a road show,” Cohen said of Trump’s visits to his properties, noting that “it didn’t bother” other presidents to stay at hotels they didn’t own.
But Republicans opposed to the proposal warned of security consequences beyond the president.
Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), the top Republican on the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the State Department, said it would jeopardize security for officials who are assigned to summits at any of the Trump properties or dignitaries who choose to stay at them.
“The president, not the secretary of State, selects travel locations,” Rogers said during House floor debate. “The Diplomatic Security is also charged with protecting foreign dignitaries and heads of state when they are in the U.S. on official business. They must do this no matter where they might stay.”
Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) also rejected the idea, noting that Trump doesn’t take an official salary as president. Trump instead periodically announces donations of his $400,000 salary to different agencies.
“It just sounds like something that the Democrats are trying to stir up,” Babin said. “His diverse businesses are everywhere. He doesn’t take a salary.”
But Cohen argued that spending taxpayer dollars at Trump properties inevitably means that the president is profiting. He also warned that it raises questions of whether Trump is in compliance with the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which states that presidents should receive only their fixed salary so they can stay independent.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declined to offer guidance on his position and where the measure might go in the upper chamber.
But at least one Republican expressed openness to the proposal: Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), the only member of his party to call for Trump’s impeachment.
Amash voted against the overall set of amendments that included Cohen and Raskin’s proposal. But he said “it’s possible” that he’d support such a measure on its own to prevent the federal government from spending money at Trump-owned properties.
“I don’t think that the government should be attempting to spend money at his businesses,” Amash told The Hill.