A Republican congressman from Florida made a special demonstration of his loyalty to President Donald Trump last week by introducing an amendment to protect him from the Russia investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Rep. Ron DeSantis, a potential candidate for Florida governor in 2018, hopes to attach language to a government spending package that would end Mueller’s investigation after six months and stop it from looking into activities that took place before June 2015. Democrats, on the other hand, have introduced at least four separate measures designed to protect Mueller’s probe.
It is not likely that these provisions will receive a vote, let alone become part of the final bill. But at a time when few Republicans are proactively defending Trump, especially on Russia, DeSantis’ amendment stands out as a conspicuous effort to back the president and possibly curry favor with him and his political base ahead of a possible bid for higher office.
DeSantis said the order from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointing Mueller “practically invites a fishing expedition” because it did not name a possible crime.
“Congress should use its spending power to clarify the scope and limit the duration of this investigation. Rosenstein has said that the DOJ doesn’t conduct fishing expeditions; the corollary to this admonition should be that Congress will not fund a fishing expedition,” DeSantis said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for DeSantis did not respond to a question about the possible political motivation behind the amendment.
The Mueller proposals are just one example of Trump-related measures winding their way into the debate over House appropriations. At a time of broad congressional inaction, when members of Congress are judged not by what they pass but merely by what they propose, several lawmakers have seized the opportunity to position themselves for and against Trump in the eyes of voters before a spending debate that will dominate the legislative schedule this fall.
In one example, Democrats have become increasingly concerned with Secret Service payments to the Trump Organization since last week, when Secret Service Director Randolph “Tex” Alles told USA Today that more than 1,000 agents have already hit their federally mandated salary and overtime caps while protecting the Trump family.
The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, joined the chorus Wednesday with a proposal to block Secret Service funds from going to Trump-owned entities. The amendment seeks to stop Trump properties from making money off the security demands imposed by the president’s frequent visits through golf cart rentals and other charges.
“The immense honor and responsibility of serving as President of the United States should never be exploited for profit or personal gain,” Schiff, Calif., said in a statement. “That the Trump Organization is profiting off the Secret Service is an abuse of taxpayer money and an improper method of enrichment.”
Another Schiff amendment would block funding for Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which is tasked with investigating voter fraud in the 2016 election. There is no evidence that widespread voter fraud took place, experts say.
Other Democratic amendments focus on Mueller’s probe: Reps. Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., Ted Lieu, D-Calif., and Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, introduced language that would deny federal funds to efforts to remove Mueller, hamper his work or destroy documents he obtains.
Democrats have also introduced provisions that would bar the federal government from contracting with Trump-related enterprises (Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.), stop public money from flowing to Trump properties in the form of reimbursements (Lieu) and even end salary payments to Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller (Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.).
All of these Democratic lawmakers represent districts that went solidly for Clinton, allowing them to introduce anti-Trump amendments without political backlash. The provisions are unlikely to become part of the final spending bill, but serve as a tacit acknowledgment of Democratic voters’ anger with Trump.
A senior adviser to Lieu pointed to a Washington Post report that the State Department spent more than $15,000 on rooms at the Trump hotel in Vancouver in late February.
“This is just a recent, disturbing example of the Trump family and President Trump forcing the American taxpayer to stuff money directly in their pockets,” Jack D’Annibale wrote in an email.
“The bottom line is that the Office of the President should never be used for personal gain or enrichment. In these matters, Congress must act to protect the American people from fraud and abuse,” he wrote.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Elise Viebeck