If Rep. Paul Ryan and his Capitol Hill colleagues really wanted to stop Donald Trump from becoming the Republican nominee for president this fall, they could make quick work of it. They could pass some laws that only Donald Trump won’t like.
Start with Sen. Ron Wyden’s proposed legislation that would require every presidential candidate to release their most recent three years of tax returns in order to gain access to the ballot. The bill could fit on a single page. No tax returns; no candidacy.
You can’t buy a house in America without disclosing your financial history. Why should the White House be any different?
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has dismissed Wyden’s proposal as a political prank aimed to embarrass one candidate, overlooking that Bernie Sanders has released only partial returns and nothing for 2015. But McConnell’s reaction raises a very real and not at all prankish question: “Would Republican lawmakers prefer Trump as their candidate or not?” If their public hand-wringing about their presumed candidate is just for show, then fine. Do nothing while pretending you wish things could be different. But don’t expect everyone else to forget that you still have the power and authority — if no longer the habit — to make laws.
Democrats have a role here too. Wyden notwithstanding, there’s no reason not to recommend laws that could save the Republican party from itself. The next vain populist billionaire could come from any point on the political spectrum.
If Democratic lawmakers are certain that Trump’s candidacy will lead to landslide victories for their side, well, they’d better be absolutely certain. Because a Trump success, or even some varieties of a Trump failure, could result in much more being lost than the jobs they currently hold but are refusing to do.
Wyden’s foray points in the right direction. Laws can and should be written and passed to make Trump feel very unwelcome. Releasing recent tax returns is only a good start.
Most American presidents have been careful to separate their personal financial decisions from the decisions they make for the good of the country. This is typically done with a so-called blind trust, but Trump has made no promises that he’ll use the tool. He expects his children will run his companies while he’s otherwise engaged. That arrangement would be long on trust, but short on blind. No son or daughter of a sitting president should be negotiating for billions of foreign investment dollars while their father sends a fleet of warships nearby for a seemingly random military exercise.
We’ve never had a business tycoon with financial interests as far flung as Trump’s, so we’ve never needed legislation to codify that separates personal and national interests. Now would be a good time to define exactly how blind a president’s blind trust should be.
Trump won’t like that he won’t be allowed even to know the names of those running his companies, but that’s fine. If Ryan and Rep. Nancy Pelosi find common cause and squeamish senators cooperate to pass a few laws quickly, Trump still will have time to tell Republicans in Cleveland, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Here’s another law that might make more candidates uncomfortable, but especially self-funding billionaires. Our former presidents receive certain benefits for the rest of their lives. Attaching a few strings to those benefits wouldn’t be inappropriate.
We can’t ask former presidents live on the pension we provide. After all, $203,700 per year just doesn’t go as far as it used to. They’ll write memoirs and give speeches.
The American people are covering those pension payments, but also the expenses of Secret Service protection until they die, and a state funeral after that. So why not pass a law requiring every beneficiary of Secret Service protection to release their annual tax returns for as long as they receive this public subsidy?
That’s not too much to ask, is it? Except we should do more than ask, and we should do it before it’s too late. Lawmakers should pass a few laws immediately, and let Trump decide for himself how badly he wants to be president.
Don Kahle (firstname.lastname@example.org) blogs at www.dksez.com.