Bipartisan Groups Urge Congress to Curb Executive Branch Power

This article features a coalition letter signed by the Government Accountability Project and was originally published here.

A bipartisan coalition of advocacy groups is urging Congress to pass legislation to reinforce constitutional checks and balances and curb the powers of the executive branch in the wake of the Trump presidency.

“After four years of Donald Trump exposing kind of the cracks and vulnerabilities in our government system, it’s important to seize this moment of reform, to rebalance power between the branches, just like Congress did, after Watergate,” said Brett Edkins, political director of Stand Up America, the progressive organization leading the effort.

letter addressed to Congress on Wednesday was signed by 157 organizations across the political spectrum. Left-leaning groups including the Center for American Progress, Demos and MoveOn co-signed the letter alongside right-leaning organizations such as Republicans for the Rule of Law, Stand Up Republic and the Niskanen Center.

“For decades, congressional authority has been undermined by the executive branch, diminishing the ability of Congress to fulfill its constitutional duties, to protect the rule of law, and to hold all presidents accountable for overreaches and abuses of power,” the coalition said in the letter.

The Protecting Our Democracy Act, was introduced by Representative Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, on Tuesday. The bill is co-sponsored by several House committee chairs including Representatives Jerrold Nadler, Zoe Lofgren, Carolyn Maloney, Richard Neal, Peter DeFazio, John Yarmuth, Gregory Meeks and Rosa DeLauro.

The lawmakers have worked with the White House to finalize the provisions on the bill although there have been disagreements on some measures, Schiff said.

The bill, if enacted, would strengthen enforcement of congressional subpoenas, reinforce Congress’ spending power, protect whistle-blowers and inspectors general and bolster the independence of the Justice Department. It would also stiffen penalties under the Hatch Act, which prohibits certain kinds of political activity by government employees.

Trump repeatedly clashed with independent inspectors general, challenging their findings and implying they might have a political agenda, ousting watchdogs at the Defense and State Departments as well as the inspector general for U.S. intelligence agencies.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed her support of the bill during a press conference Tuesday morning.

“We have to codify this, turn it into law, so that no president of whatever party can ever assume that he or she has the power to usurp the power of the other branches of government,” Pelosi said.

Schiff introduced a previous version of the bill during the last session of Congress, but it was never brought to the floor for a vote. During a Tuesday press conference, he said he hoped the bill would be taken up in the House this fall with strong support.

Even with broad Democratic support in the House, the measure would require Republican votes in order to overcome a filibuster in the evenly divided Senate. It is not clear whether GOP lawmakers would support the legislation, although Schiff said there were several provisions in this bill that were authored by Republicans in the past.