Editorial: Congress, we're counting on you

York Dispatch
  • It's up to lawmakers to make sure Donald Trump knows where his rights and responsibilities end.
  • Hint: Handing your businesses to your kids while you're president doesn't qualify as a blind trust.
  • Those who count on him for their incomes can't ensure Trump's interests don't clash with his job.

These are the days when Congress could actually prove useful.

As President-elect Donald Trump works through his transition to the Oval Office, it's up to the legislative branch of the government to make sure he knows his rights and responsibilities and exactly where those end.

So we're glad to see that some members are stepping up,

Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., has introduced a bill to ensure that presidents and vice presidents follow the same law all other federal officials have to follow and don't engage in government business where they stand to gain a profit.

President-elect Donald Trump smiles as he arrives to speak at an election night rally, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

“Every recent president in modern history has taken steps to ensure his financial interests do not conflict with the needs of the American people. The American people need to be able to trust that the president’s decisions are based on the best interests of families at home, and not the president’s financial interests," Clark said in a news release about her bill.

The Presidential Accountability Act would specify that members of the executive branch place their assets in a blind trust while they're in office, and it lays out exactly what a blind trust is. (Hint: Handing your businesses over to your children while you're president doesn't qualify as a blind trust.)

Trump's business interests have drawn questions nationally and internationally throughout his campaign, and those questions are becoming more urgent with less than two months before his inauguration. His holdings range from a new hotel blocks from the White House to Trump Tower in New York to a dozen golf clubs around the world.

Those international holdings bring in another conflict: the Emoluments Clause in the U.S. Constitution, which bars federal officers from accepting anything at all from any foreign power.

And yet, according to the Washington Post, just last weekend Trump's new hotel in D.C. held an event to wine and dine diplomats.

"Why wouldn't I stay at his hotel blocks from the White House, so I can tell the new president, 'I love your new hotel!' Isn't it rude to come to his city and say, 'I am staying at your competitor?'" an Asian diplomat is quoted as saying.

The Department of Justice had to investigate whether President Barack Obama's acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize was legal under the emoluments clause. The DOJ also gets involved when federal employees lecture at foreign universities or serve on such entities as the Commission of International Historians. A president who has multiple business holdings in other countries while also owing millions to foreign banks? The DOJ will need a new building to house the new employees it will need to keep up with all of that.

The Trump squad, led by chief of staff Reince Priebus, says the White House counsel will ensure there are no conflicts of interest and everything is aboveboard.

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Remember, the president-elect on Friday forked over $25 million to settle a lawsuit for fraud filed against a "university" with his name on it. Sure, we can just trust those who answer to him for their livelihoods to make sure his business interests don't interfere with running the country.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also stepped up this weekend, telling an audience at the annual Halifax International Security Forum that Trump's campaign speech promise to torture suspected terrorists will not happen, according to politico.com.

"I don't give a damn what the president of the United States wants to do. We will not waterboard," said McCain, the chair of the Senate Armed Forces Committee and the victim of torture during the Vietnam War. He reminded those present that torture remains illegal under the Geneva Conventions and was also banned by Congress last year and said anyone who crossed that line would find themselves in court "in a New York minute."

Let's hope McCain stands by that speech when Trump CIA pick Rep. Mike Pompeo, a defender of Bush-era interrogation techniques, comes before the Senate for confirmation.

The Senate also has to confirm members of the president's Cabinet. With such names as Sen. Jeffrey Sessions of Alabama being tossed around, we have to believe the Senate will actually look out for the good of the country and not allow Trump to steamroll in a roster of racists and misogynists as approved by his neo-Nazi chief strategist Steve Bannon.

All of us who voted, no matter who we voted for, have to hold Congress accountable for anything it allows the Trump administration to do. And that accountability has to start right now.

If you're worried about what's happening with the administration, if you have concerns about appointments and conflicts of interest, if you think Clark's bill to force Trump to follow the normal rules should pass, call your members of Congress: Rep. Scott Perry, R-Dillsburg, (202) 225-5836; Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., (202) 224-4254; and Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., (202) 224-6324.

Let them know that you're watching, and you expect them to do their jobs and keep Trump in check.