Comer, Raskin battle over dueling bills on Trump, Biden and foreign money

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The leaders of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee have crafted dueling bills to tackle a shared interest: how to address foreign money in U.S. politics.

It’s one of the few areas of common ground for Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) and ranking member Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who have railed against foreign influence in politics almost as much as they’ve taken shots at each other.

But their two bills diverge in their approach, each drawing inspiration from their respective investigations into the Biden and Trump families.

Raskin name-checked former President Trump in rolling out a bill that adds penalties for those who fail to meet their constitutional obligation to seek Congress’s blessing to take foreign government money.

And while Comer mentioned no names when he released bipartisan legislation he sponsored with Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), portions of the bill read like a roadmap of his investigation into the Biden family. The bill would require presidents to disclose foreign earnings of any kind made to the president and their immediate family.

Either bill would represent a serious advancement in addressing foreign money in politics. 

But drumming up support for both bills could be a tough sell in a committee where clashes are commonplace — even as a few lawmakers say they’d consider crossing the aisle to support the other side’s bill.

“I think that they could be complimentary. I don’t see them as necessarily competing bills,” said Danielle Caputo, an attorney with the Campaign Legal Center, adding that both would aid in transparency around foreign spending tied to U.S. politicians.

“Both of these bills would be a step in the right direction.”

Comer and Raskin quietly worked on their bills for months before their recent rollouts. 

But their back-to-back introduction suggests there’s some competitive spirit at play.

Raskin introduced his bill the night before Comer’s, telling The Wall Street Journal, “When I heard that Chairman Comer was putting out his bill, I thought it would be a good time to put out our proposal.”

Comer’s bill focuses more on disclosure, forcing the president and vice president to detail both their own foreign income and that of their immediate relatives. It would also require sharing their tax returns once the pair is in office.

It also includes measures inspired by Comer’s investigation into the Biden family, requiring presidents to disclose any loans made with family members as well as documentation of any family travel on Air Force One or Air Force Two by relatives hitching a ride and whether they were doing so for business purposes.

Raskin’s bill follows a report from committee Democrats earlier this year that documented nearly $8 million spent by foreign governments at Trump businesses while he was in office. Trump did not seek permission from Congress for his businesses to accept the money.

His legislation would expand the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, applying its limitation on accepting foreign government money to a wider pool of elected officials, as well as some top White House roles. It also extends the clause’s requirements for two years after those officials leave their posts.

That would address conduct from Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who after leaving the White House signed a $2 billion investment deal with a fund controlled by the Saudi royal family.

It also adds both civil and criminal penalties for those found to be skirting the law.

Neither leader, however, expressed much interest in supporting their colleague’s legislation.

“For a bill to really become a law, it has to be bipartisan,” Comer said, noting his work with Porter, a lawmaker he has regularly praised during committee hearings for her willingness to work with him on the issue.

Raskin’s bill, he said, “wasn’t designed to [be bipartisan]. It was designed to be a stunt. And that’s all he is. He just does stunts. This is a sincere effort by Porter and myself to fix a problem that both parties admit has existed for a long time.”

Raskin was similarly hesitant to support Comer’s legislation, calling it “weak” and “purely a disclosure bill.”

“It doesn’t really do anything. It’s cosmetic. It should apply to candidates; it should apply to people who are running so that the public knows whether they’ve been collecting money from foreign governments or other kinds of special interests,” the Maryland Democrat said, nodding to Trump’s failure across three presidential bids to release his tax returns.

“I don’t have any particular problem with it because it’s a teeny bit more disclosure. If he were to open it up to candidates, then that’s something I could definitely look at signing,” Raskin added.

Stuck in the middle is Porter, who is a co-sponsor on Raskin’s legislation as well.

“I see no reason not to support all thoughtful efforts in this area,” she told The Hill.

But she sees her bill with Comer as being both more substantive and having a better chance at being fast tracked through the legislative process.

“The bill that Mr. Comer and I have developed is much broader. It covers not just foreign payments. It covers loans, it covers gifts, it covers conflicts of interest, it covers travel on official aircraft and it covers tax returns,” she said.

She and Comer have also committed to accepting amendments during markup, something Porter said could make it a vehicle for other top ethics issues — “anything from congressional stock trading to a different rule on foreign payments.” 

Porter said she and Comer intentionally crafted the bill to ensure it would only need to be reviewed by the Oversight Committee, while the criminal penalties included in Raskin’s effort could require review elsewhere.

“Mr. Raskin’s bill is punitive. It’s to send people to prison,” she said.

“Our bill is about restoring trust in government and trying to get people not to do these things in the first place.”

There are Oversight members on both sides of the aisle who said they’d consider supporting each piece of legislation.

Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) praised Porter as someone who has done a “really good job of taking on corporate power and power in general,” saying he was reviewing her bill with Comer.

And Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) said he’s “not a fan of foreign money in politics,” adding that he would consider supporting Raskin’s bill because he doesn’t “give a rip who sponsors the bill.”

He expressed doubt, however, that the sponsors share that sentiment.

“I think we can put them all together. They might try to put them all in one bill and do that kind of thing and sing ‘Kumbaya.’ But … they’re both pretty alpha male types,” Burchett said.

“I suspect they’re both wanting their own bill.”

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