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Analysis: Democrats Try to Force Republicans’ Hands — but Can They?

Republicans still have the edge in political maneuvering

Democrats are hoping to force the Republicans’ hand through legislation from Massachusetts Rep. Katherine M. Clark. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Democrats are hoping to force the Republicans’ hand through legislation from Massachusetts Rep. Katherine M. Clark. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Democrats want to force Republicans’ hands on President Donald Trump’s tax returns — but it remains to be see how effective posturing can be for the minority party.

Democrats in the chamber plan to have Massachusetts Rep. Katherine M. Clark introduce legislation requiring Trump to release his tax returns from 2007 to 2016, according to The Washington Post. 

They know this move will likely fail, given that the GOP controls the House. But Jim Manley, a onetime adviser to former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, said there were some political benefits.

“It’s a smart move on their part, but given the rules of the House, I am not sure they will get an opportunity to force it,” Manley said. “But it sure gives a good message for Democrats to drive home, especially as the administration touts its so-called tax reform.”

The ultimate aim of the legislation is to get Republicans voting on record against releasing an unpopular president’s tax returns. 

Democrats are also trying to tie Republicans to other controversies involving Trump.

New York Rep. Jerrold Nadlerintroduced a resolution of inquiry in February that would ask the Justice Department to investigate Trump’s potential conflicts of interest, ethics violations, and ties to Russia.

Nadler sought a full floor vote if the House Judiciary Committee didn’t act. But his resolution went nowhere either in committee or  on the floor. 

Republican strategist Michael Steel, who worked for former Speaker John A. Boehner, said it’s unlikely the Democrats can score points on Trump’s tax returns.

“It’s clearly not an issue that hurt the president in the general election,” said Steel, who also worked for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign in which he ran against Trump.

“It’s not a high priority issue for the American people,” he said. “And it doesn’t help Washington Democrats appeal to the swing voters they would need in the midterms.”

Steel said that while Republicans used similar tactics when they were in the minority, they also pushed for procedural votes that were able to split Democrats on issues like immigration and guns.

“The powers of the minority in the House are very limited, which makes it even more important to do it in a smart way,” he said.

Manley isn’t opposed to using procedural votes against Republicans now that they’re in the majority. 

“When you’re in minority in House, it’s difficult to follow through,” he said. “But it gives a great message,” he said.

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