May 10, 2019

Dems flirt with fining Trump officials

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff floated a new idea at an Axios News Shapers event this morning about how to enforce subpoenas against the Trump administration: fine officials who ignore them.

Why it matters: It's a risky move for House Democrats if they go ahead with it — because it's a largely untested idea, it's not 100% clear that Congress has the authority to do it, and it's definitely not clear how they would enforce it.

How it works:

  • The idea is to revive the congressional "inherent contempt" power — which hasn't been used in nearly a century, and was used to put witnesses on trial and imprison them in the Capitol.
  • But Schiff isn't interested in actually putting, say, Attorney General Bill Barr in handcuffs and throwing him in Congress jail. He's more interested in an alternative idea that has been suggested for inherent contempt: use it to impose fines instead.
  • "You could fine someone $25,000 a day until they comply," he said at the event. "We're looking through the history and studying the law to make sure we're on solid ground."

The catch: A Congressional Research Service report says it's an "open question" whether Congress actually has the authority to do that. It's never happened before, per CRS, but "there may be an argument supporting the existence of that power" — largely because of a passing mention of it in an 1880 Supreme Court case.

  • But if there's a legal challenge — which is a near-certainty from the Trump administration — CRS says the courts would probably put a lot of weight on the fact that Congress has never done this before.
  • And even if the courts decide that Congress has the authority, the report says, "it is unclear how such a fine would be implemented and ... collected."
  • Another option on the table for House Democrats: using their appropriations muscle — withholding funds to agencies until their officials comply with subpoenas.
  • A committee aide: "We have to look to historic practices to ensure Congress can perform its necessary oversight. Inherent contempt is one of those options, as is the appropriations process."

What's next: House Democrats will have to figure out if this is actually workable, and Schiff acknowledged that the decision will be made "above my pay grade" — by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in consultation with the committee chairs. "But if there is going to be this across-the-board stonewalling, we're going to have to consider extraordinary remedies."

The bottom line: The fact that House Democrats are thinking about such an untested step, and that Schiff was willing to discuss it at such an early stage, shows how eager they are to explore any options that don't involve letting Trump run out the clock in the courts.

Go deeper: How Trump can stall House Democrats

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 665,164 — Total deaths: 30,852 — Total recoveries: 140,225.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 124,665 — Total deaths: 2,191 — Total recoveries: 1,095.
  3. Federal government latest: President Trump announces new travel advisories for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, but rules out quarantine enforcement. Per the CDC, residents of those states must now "refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days," with the exception of critical infrastructure industry workers.
  4. State updates: Alaska is latest state to issue a stay-at-home order — New York is trying to nearly triple its hospital capacity in less than a month and has moved its presidential primary to June 23. Some Midwestern swing voters who backed Trump's handling of the virus less than two weeks ago are balking at his call for the U.S. to be "opened up" by Easter.
  5. World updates: In Spain, over 1,400 people were confirmed dead between Thursday to Saturday.
  6. 🚀 Space updates: OneWeb filed for bankruptcy amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  7. Hollywood: Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have returned to U.S. after being treated for coronavirus.
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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Coronavirus updates: Global death toll tops 30,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

The novel coronavirus has now killed more than 30,000 people around the world — with Italy reporting over 10,000 deaths, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: The number of deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. surpassed 2,000 on Saturday. The United States leads the world in confirmed coronavirus infections — more than 124,000 by early Sunday. The number of those recovered from the virus in the U.S. passed the 1,000-mark on Saturday evening.

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Gilead expands access to experimental coronavirus drug in emergency cases

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Gilead Sciences CEO Daniel O’Day said in an open letter Saturday the company is expanding access to its experimental anti-coronavirus drug remdesivir to include severely ill COVID-19 patients.

The big pig picture: President Trump has called the antiviral drug "promising," but the results of six clinical trials on this investigational medicine are still being conducted, so its effectiveness the treatment of the novel coronavirus has yet to be proved. The World Health Organization is involved in the tests.

Go deeperArrow2 hours ago - Health