House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal of Massachusetts is carefully deliberating the best way to request President Donald Trump’s tax returns amid building pressure from activists on the left.
Requesting presidential tax returns has become a key mobilizing issue for the Democratic base, but it carries with it both political and legal risks. While Democrats are confident IRS code 6103 gives them the power to request the returns, there is no precedent for asking for the President of the United States’ tax returns. And, Trump isn’t expected to hand them over without a legal fight.
For Neal, a left of center Democrat who has waited decades to win the gavel on Ways and Means, requesting the returns could come with costs: such a gesture could be seen within the administration as the ultimate defiance, virtually assuring the administration recasts Neal as a foe rather than a negotiating partner.
But pressure is mounting. Even as the Ways and Means Committee just formally organized and navigated a 35-day long government shutdown of agencies within their jurisdiction, groups like Tax March, Indivisible and Stand Up America sent a letter last week to Neal urging him to swiftly request Trump’s returns. They included a draft letter for the chairman to send to Treasury.
Members of the committee say they have little concern that Neal will pursue the tax returns, instead arguing that such a pursuit has to be executed with extreme care.
“We are a little bit behind obviously” because of the shutdown, Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey told CNN Tuesday. “I am no less convinced that that the chairman is committed to one of his top priorities and the committee’s top priority to inquire about the President’s taxes.”
Next week, according to a person familiar with the planning, the Oversight Subcommittee of Ways and Means will hold a hearing on the issue of presidential tax returns. The hearing comes as an ongoing effort to hold hearings on pieces of H.R. 1, a bill that makes sweeping ethics changes, overhauls the country’s voting system and also requires presidential candidates to disclose 10 years of tax returns.
“I know that Chairman Neal is focused on this, but he wants to ensure whatever he does is done in a way that will be completely defensible and doesn’t create more of a circus atmosphere,” said Rep. Dan Kildee, a Michigan Democrat. “We are in an unprecedented moment. We have a President who refused to follow precedent and custom and release his tax returns and there are a lot of questions about that.”
Neal has been clear with his members: he intends to request the President’s returns, but when precisely he will make that move is still up for discussion. And even as pressure builds from outside the Capitol, members on the committee are trying to give their chairman some breathing room.
“I have absolutely no concerns about the way Richie Neal is handling this. He is a complete professional. Frankly, I am happy and gratified that someone of his intelligence and experience is in the role of chairman at this important time,” said Rep. Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania.
Neal told CNN Tuesday that he is pursuing the returns on his own careful timeline.
“Well, actually (the) legal case is being prepared and (we are) doing it quite judiciously. (Choosing) our words methodically. This is the beginning of a court case. I think the idea here is to avoid the emotion of the moment and make sure that the product stands up under critical analysis,” he said. “And it will.”
CNN’s Manu Raju contributed to this report.