(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

House GOP begin to turn on Trump: Republicans break from party to demand president's tax returns

“It isn’t about Trump’s tax returns. It’s about the continuation of a policy that’s been in place for 50 years"


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Sophia Tesfaye
March 4, 2017 2:30AM (UTC)

Resistance to President Donald Trump is cropping up in the most unlikeliest of places: the House GOP caucus.

At least four Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives, some of whom have been questioned, booed and heckled at recent town halls by their constituents, publicly called for Trump to release his tax returns in order to review for any potential conflicts of interest that pose a national security risk or violate the Constitution.

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“It’s something I feel very, very strongly about,” Republican South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford told RollCall this week. Sanford, along with North Carolina Republican Walter Jones signed a letter from New Jersey Democrat Bill Pascrell calling on the chairmen of the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee to compel the United States Treasury Department to release Trump’s tax returns for congressional review.

“Disclosure would serve the public interest of clarifying President Trump’s conflicts of interest in office, the potential for him to personally benefit from tax reform, and ensure that he is not receiving any preferential treatment from the IRS,” the letter stated. “We believe the powerful and respected Committees on Finance and Ways and Means have the responsibility to ensure oversight of the executive branch by requesting a review of President Trump’s tax returns and moving toward a formal release of these documents to the public”

The letter has been signed by more than 140 Democrats in the House.

“Ultimately, it isn’t about Trump’s tax returns. It’s about the continuation of a policy that’s been in place for 50 years by virtue of tradition. What happens at the federal level has real implications at the state and local level,” Sanford said.

Sanford was one of several House Republicans, including House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, who called on Trump to release his tax returns during the presidential campaign. Sanford even sent a letter in late January to Trump's chief of staff, Reince Priebus, on the matter.

Trump defied a more than four-decade-old bipartisan tradition of presidential candidates releasing their tax returns, insisting that he cannot do so while under audit. He has said that the public doesn't care "at all" about his returns.

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But asked, "Will you call for the release of President Trump’s income tax records?” by a registered Republican at a Pensacola town hall late last month, freshman Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida folded and responded: "Absolutely."

Iowa Republican Rep. David Young echoed his Republican colleague at his own recent town hall. “You run for president, you’re president, you should release your tax returns. It’s a distraction and I think the American people should know,” the congressman told a town hall last week, calling the decision a “no-brainer.”

A poll released during last year's presidential campaign found that 64 percent of Republican voters wanted Trump to release his tax returns.

Earlier this week Pascrell tried to get House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-TX, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orin Hatch, R-Utah, to use their jurisdictional authority to push Trump to release his taxes. Pascrell forced a vote on the floor of the House on the issue, but every Republican -- including Gaetz and Young -- unanimously rejected the motion. Sanford and Jones, who have taken the most concrete steps to force Trump's hand on tax returns, voted present.

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Jones said in an interview with RollCall that Americans “need to know” about their president’s taxes.

"We are not going to be turned back," Pascrell said after his bill failed to gain traction with more Republicans. "We have several paths."

Democratic members in the Senate are now pushing for the returns under the same 1924 law that Pascrell unsuccessfully invoked in the House. Under the law, chairmen of the Congressional tax-writing committees are authorized to confidentially review anyone's return -- including the president's -- without that person's consent if they have cause for concern.

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“I’m just watching these Republicans speaking out in the House like Mark Sanford,” Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon, the leading Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, told RollCall. Wyden recently introduced a bill that would require presidents and presidential nominees to release their three most recent tax returns. If they don't, Wyden's bill would authorize the Treasury to do it for them. The measure has 19 co-sponsors, all Democrats, but so far no action has been taken.

Democrats have said Trump’s tax returns are needed to examine potential financial links to Russian investors in light of Russia’s interference in last year’s elections. They also contend the tax returns could help determine whether Trump has conflicts of interests when he takes positions on legislation such as tax proposals.

But Republican committee chairmen Brady and Hatch said in a letter to Wyden that there was no "specific allegations of tax-related misconduct" against Trump. As a result, they wrote, "we strongly believe it would be inappropriate for us to use this authority to access and release the president's tax returns."

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Unlike Republicans in the House, Senate Republicans have surprisingly stuck by Trump and his right to shield his tax returns more than their colleagues in the House. Only Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has somewhat spoken against Trump's position, telling RollCall this week that “any candidate running in 2020 needs to release their tax returns.”


Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's Deputy Politics Editor and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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