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H.R. 371 (115th): Presidential Conflicts of Interest Act of 2017

The president and vice president are currently exempt from any financial conflict of interest rules. And President Trump, with his global business and real estate empire, has created an “unprecedented” number of White House conflicts of interest.

The Presidential Conflicts of Interest Act, H.R. 371 and S. 65, aims to change that, both for Trump and future presidents.

What the bill does

Introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA5), the legislation would require the president and vice president to both reveal and divest themselves from any potential financial conflicts of interest. The bill would also apply for presidential and vice presidential spouses, children, and appointees.

The legislation would also require both major party presidential nominees to publicly release their tax returns from the preceding three years, adapted from Sen. Ron Wyden’s (D-OR) Presidential Tax Transparency Act, which GovTrack Insider previously covered in November.

Warren, a rumored possible 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, could possibly be subject to the law herself.

Trump’s conflicts of interest

President Trump, the first major party candidate not to release tax returnssince the 1970s, is suspected by many of having financial conflicts of interest that are not yet known. Indeed, Trump’s global business and real estate empire is worth billions of dollars and spans countries all over the world, including many whose relationships with the U.S. are critical or contentious. And Trump has not divested himself from his business assets, instead onlypassing control of his business to his sons Donald Jr. and Eric.

As Huffington Post Politics reporter Paul Blumenthal pointed out, Trump’s actions as president-elect and president have caused concern about his potential to profit off of decisions he makes from the Oval Office. “After stating during his presidential campaign that he would have nothing to do with his business if elected, Trump has met with his foreign business partners, touted them to foreign leaders and appointed his adult children to the executive committee of his presidential transition despite plans for them to assume control of the Trump Organization,” Blumenthal wrote.

What supporters say

Supporters argue that the bill is necessary to ensure that White House actions are taken on behalf of the American people, rather than to personally benefit oneself, one’s children, or one’s corporation.

“Every recent president in modern history has taken steps to ensure his financial interests do not conflict with the needs of the American people,” House lead sponsor Clark said in a statement. “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.”

“The American people deserve to know that the President of the United States is working to do what’s best for the country — not using his office to do what’s best for himself and his businesses,” Senate lead sponsor Warren echoed in a statement. “The only way for [President] Trump to truly eliminate conflicts of interest is to divest his financial interests by placing them in a blind trust. This has been the standard for previous presidents, and our bill makes clear the continuing expectation that President-elect Trump do the same.”

What opponents say

Republicans view the bill as a purely political attempt by Democrats to undermine and set limits on a Republican president.

A number of congressional Republicans vocally took issue with Trump’s financial secrecy and potential conflicts of interest during the campaign, but most have entirely remained mute on the subject since the election. Accordingly, zero Republicans have yet signed on to cosponsor the legislation.

Odds of passage

The bill has attracted 115 cosponsors in the House and 23 cosponsors in the Senate, all Democrats. The legislation has yet to receive a vote in the House Oversight and Government Reform, Judiciary, or Ways and Means Committees, or the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

Last updated Feb 2, 2017. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jan 9, 2017.

Presidential Conflicts of Interest Act of 2017

This bill requires the President and Vice President to submit to Congress and the Office of Government Ethics a disclosure of financial interests.

Among the contents of such disclosure, the President and Vice President shall: (1) include a detailed description of each financial interest of the President and Vice President, the spouse of the President and Vice President, or a minor child of the President and Vice President; and (2) include the tax returns filed by or on behalf of the President and Vice President for the three most recent taxable years.

The President, the Vice President, the spouse of the President or Vice President, and any minor child of the President or Vice President must divest any financial interest posing a potential conflict of interest by transferring such interest to a qualified blind trust.

Within a reasonable period of time after such financial interest is transferred to a qualified blind trust, the trustee of such trust shall: (1) sell the financial interest; and (2) use the proceeds from the sale of the financial interest to purchase conflict-free holdings.

The Office of Government Ethics shall submit to Congress, the President, and the Vice President an annual report regarding the financial interests of such officials, their spouses, and any of their minor children.

The Attorney General, the attorney general of any state, or any person aggrieved by a violation of divestiture requirements posing a potential conflict of interest may seek declaratory or injunctive relief if: (1) the Office of Government Ethics is unable to issue a report indicating whether the President or Vice President is in substantial compliance with such divestiture requirements; or (2) there is probable cause to believe the President or the Vice President has not complied with such requirements.

The bill amends the federal criminal code to require the recusal of presidential appointees from decisions affecting the financial holdings of a President or the spouse of a President. Prohibitions pertaining to contracts entered into by Members of Congress are extended to contracts by the President or Vice President.

The bill amends the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 to require the disclosure of tax returns by the incumbent President and presidential nominees of a major political party for the three most recent taxable years.

The bill declares the sense of Congress that a violation of the divestiture requirements of this bill or the Ethics in Government in Government Act of 1978 by the President or the Vice President would constitute a high crime or misdemeanor.