By Rep. Susan A. Davis
If asked, most people could probably explain what the First Amendment or the Second Amendment does. Very few could probably explain the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The recent debate about emoluments may have had a number of people running for their dictionaries.
In essence, the emoluments clause is designed to prevent corruption, and President Donald J. Trump is violating it.
The clause simply states: “No person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”
The key to this section is “without the consent of the Congress.”
There is nothing in the Constitution that prohibits the president, and other federal office holders, from conducting business with foreign governments. However, the Constitution is clear that they are required to seek and obtain the consent of Congress before accepting any gifts, benefits, or payments from foreign nations.
The president must come before Congress and identify the emoluments he wants to accept and get Congress’s approval. So far, Trump has refused to do so while he continues to reap financial benefits from numerous foreign nations.
As the result of his refusal, I have joined with nearly 200 senators and representatives in filing a lawsuit to compel the president to seek such an approval.
The complaint filed last week states: “because defendant is not coming to Congress and identifying the emoluments he wishes to accept, the American people will have no way of knowing whether his actions as president reflect only his beliefs about what is best for the country, or whether they are partly motivated by personal financial considerations.”
We know that Trump receives monies from foreign governments. Disclosure forms recently showed that the government of Saudi Arabia spent $270,000 at the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Did this play a role in the decision for President Trump’s first foreign trip to be to Saudi Arabia? We may never know.
On the day this lawsuit was filed, the Chinese government approved nine new trademarks for the Trump Organization that it had previously rejected. After a lot of tough talk on China, we now see a kinder and gentler approach to China from Trump. Coincidence?
These instances raise the concerns about corruption and influence that our country’s Founding Fathers were trying to address.
In fact, preventing corruption was keen on the minds of the founders. According to the notes James Madison kept during the Constitutional Convention in 1787, 15 delegates used the word “corruption” 54 times. About one quarter of the days that the Constitutional Convention was in session was dedicated to the issue of corruption.
Past presidents have had no problem complying with the Foreign Emoluments Clause.
In 1830, Colombian President Simon Bolivar offered President Andrew Jackson, who Trump reportedly reveres, a commemorative gold coin. Jackson sent it to Congress, which directed him to deposit the medal to the Department of State.
In 1963, the government of Ireland offered to grant President John F. Kennedy an honorary citizenship. The Office of White House Counsel advised that it would violate the Foreign Emoluments Clause and President Kennedy declined to accept it.
Most recently, President George W. Bush was presented with a puppy by the president of Bulgaria. Since it was a gift from a foreign government, it fell under the Foreign Emoluments Clause and the puppy was eventually placed with a family.
It is safe to say that a puppy probably would not have had a corrupting influence on a president, but the law is the law.
The problem with our current president is that he thinks he is above the law and that the Foreign Emoluments Clause does not apply to him.
He, as well as members of Congress, swore an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution. Congress also has a responsibility to provide oversight of the executive branch.
By his refusal to come to Congress, Trump is denying members of Congress their right to cast a binding vote that either gives or withholds consent.
Our lawsuit asks the court to restore that right.
The American people have the right to know that their president has their best interest in mind when making decisions on their behalf.
Until President Trump either adheres to the Foreign Emoluments Clause or fully divests himself from his businesses, the American people will never get the transparency they deserve about Trump’s business dealings and how that might influence his decisions.
—Rep. Susan A. Davis represents Congressional District 53, which includes the San Diego communities of Old Town, Kensington, Mission Hills, University Heights, Hillcrest Bankers Hill, North Park, South Park, Talmadge and Normal Heights, as well as La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley and parts of El Cajon and Chula Vista.