House Democrats Vote To Give Their Committee Chiefs More Power To Investigate Trump

Jun 11, 2019
Originally published on June 12, 2019 1:10 pm
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And we begin this hour with the latest on Congress and investigations and the Trump administration. The House of Representatives voted today to enforce subpoenas against Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn. This power will help the House Judiciary Committee in its quest for materials related to the Mueller report. The resolution today - passed today also empowers House committees to sue as they continue investigating the Trump administration.

NPR's Tim Mak is on Capitol Hill. And Tim, how significant is today's vote in the wider context of everything that Democrats want to investigate?

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Well, it's pretty significant. It's an - it's the latest ratcheting up of tensions between the Trump administration and Congress. Democrats passed what's called a civil contempt resolution along party lines. It authorizes committee chairs to act on their own, to go to court for documents and testimony that they've subpoenaed. House Democratic chairs have - as we've talked about, have run up against the Trump administration. And in many case, the Trump administration has refused to cooperate with congressional investigations.

Here's House Speaker Nancy Pelosi explaining the priorities of her caucus at a conference today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY PELOSI: Legislating, investigating, litigating. I want you to add the litigating.

MAK: Authorizing chairs to pursue legal action would allow Democrats to seek - to enforce subpoenas for things like Trump's tax returns, special counsel Robert Mueller's underlying investigative materials and former White House counsel Don McGahn's testimony.

KELLY: So, Tim, is this a bit of a sidestep from what was, at one point, looking like a more aggressive confrontation? And what might this do to the prospect of impeachment proceedings?

MAK: You know, it's interesting. I mean, this is a way for Democrats to show that they're fighting and for leadership to let off some of the pressure on this internal split on impeachment, which is really very much present in the Democratic caucus right now. Democrats do not look like they're about to spring into impeachment proceedings. Nancy Pelosi said as much today at that same conference.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PELOSI: There's not - it's not even close in our caucus.

MAK: I mean, according to NPR's latest figures, 60 Democrats have said that they favor beginning an impeachment process, but that's out of 235 Democrats. So just a quarter of Democrats in the House are eager to go down this pathway. And the speaker doesn't look any likelier to lead them down this path than she did a few weeks ago. Instead, it looks like they will just continue to investigate and issue these sorts of subpoenas.

KELLY: All right. So that's what's going on with House Democrats. What about the other side? How are House Republicans responding?

MAK: Well, so they're pointing to Monday's announcement that the Justice Department is making a concession to the House Judiciary Committee. The DOJ said they'd be willing to make some documents available that the committee has subpoenaed. Republicans say this shows that ongoing negotiations are effective and that filing a lawsuit before exhausting other means could lead to a loss in court and a dangerous precedent.

Here's Congressman Tom Cole. He's a longtime Republican member from Oklahoma.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOM COLE: Without exhausting all other options - continuing negotiation, discussion, compromise and turning to a vote on contempt as the last resort - majority's instead pushing this forward into litigation with the executive branch. And in doing so, they may well be placing the House in a position that causes significant long-term damage to the institution.

MAK: Well, on the other hand, Democrats say they're being stymied in their investigations by the president.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MAXINE WATERS: I will continue to support efforts to ensure that our critical oversight is not impeded. Who does he think he is?

MAK: That's Maxine Waters. She's the chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee.

KELLY: All right. So where does all this go next in the seconds we have left, Tim? What are you watching for?

MAK: Yeah, the House Oversight Committee is expected to hold Attorney General Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for not handing over documents related to their oversight of the 2020 census. And the House Intelligence Committee is holding another hearing, this time on the counterintelligence implications of the Mueller report. There are a lot of things going on, one after the other, that the House Democratic leadership is trying to use to illustrate they're standing up to the president.

KELLY: NPR's Tim Mak on Capitol Hill. Thank you, Tim.

MAK: Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.