WASHINGTON — Before she was elected to the U.S. House, Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) taught government at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, for three decades.
“We had serious discussions about the role of the Legislature holding the executive branch accountable,” she said at a hearing on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
Titus brought out her professor persona as she sought to explain the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which could get even more attention as House Democrats pursue an impeachment inquiry of the president.
“A lot of people may not be familiar with the term ‘emolument,’ but the founding fathers thought of it broadly as any payment or benefit,” she said. “They included it in the Constitution to prevent U.S. government officials from accepting bribes from foreign governments or from parts of our own government that might be trying to curry favor.”
The Nevada congresswoman and others have questioned whether Trump violated the emoluments clause by benefiting financially from the luxury hotel he owns in downtown Washington — just a few blocks from the White House — in a building leased from the federal government.
Titus led a hearing Wednesday to investigate the Trump administration’s oversight of the hotel lease.
It’s a “fairly unprecedented situation,” Titus said. “Since President Trump has declined to divest from his businesses, he’s essentially acting as both the landlord and the tenant.”
She pointed to a report issued in January by the General Services Administration’s Office of Inspector General. That report said that GSA had recognized that Trump’s business interest in the hotel’s lease raised issues under the emoluments clause that might cause a breach in the lease. But GSA did not address those issues, which the IG said was “improper.”
Trump is also facing legal challenges over whether he’s violating the Constitution’s prohibitions on accepting financial benefits from foreign or state governments.
Democrats are pointing to potential violations of the emoluments clause as one of the reasons they’re pressing forward with an impeachment inquiry that targets the president. But Titus and others have acknowledged the emoluments clause can be tough to explain.
After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced an official impeachment inquiry Tuesday in the wake of reports that Trump pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, Titus acknowledged that the Ukraine controversy was easier to explain to the public.
North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, an ally of the president, dismissed concerns about the Trump hotel lease as a distraction at Wednesday’s hearing.
“Here we are in the drama of everything related to President Trump is bad,” Meadows said. “We have other business before this committee that is critical to the American taxpayer.”
But Titus stressed the need for oversight of an administration that “continues to stonewall Congress.”
She added, “The founding fathers were wise enough to put the emoluments clause right in the Constitution, and we should be wise enough to enforce it.”