Republicans take heat on Trump's tax returns

Most of the Republicans who have called for President Trump to release his tax returns have declined to join efforts to use the power of Congress to make it happen.

Only two Republicans who think Trump should make his finances public have joined in Democratic-led attempts to demand the tax returns from the IRS.

At least 10 other GOP lawmakers have said that Trump should release his tax returns during the 2016 campaign and recent interviews or town hall meetings with constituents. But they've declined to support measures to compel the release of the returns, including during three House floor votes forced by Democrats. 

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They've defended their votes by arguing Trump should release the tax returns on his own, instead of Congress unilaterally forcing the issue. Many are also wary of joining a partisan push by Democrats. 

“Yes, I have voted against Democrat partisan procedural measures that accomplish nothing but bad political theater,” said Rep. Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney FrelinghuysenHouse GOP abandons ObamaCare repeal effort in stunning defeat The Hill's 12:30 Report Live coverage: House pulls ObamaCare repeal bill MORE (R-N.J.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee who is being targeted by Democrats in 2018. “I've said publicly, and I stand by my statements, that I think the president should voluntarily release his tax returns.” 

Three times in as many weeks, Democrats offered resolutions on the House floor to request Trump’s tax returns so that the House Ways and Means Committee could review them in a closed meeting and then vote to provide information to the full chamber.

The measures also urged the House to “support transparency in government and the longstanding tradition of Presidents and Presidential candidates disclosing their tax returns.”

A House Democratic leadership aide said they plan to force the votes every week until this year's Tax Day on April 18.

In each case, the measures were blocked because they were ruled not to be “privileged” resolutions affecting the House’s dignity and integrity that lawmakers must act on within two legislative days. The House then took roll call votes on whether to reject appeals of those rulings.

Democrats are hoping to put a spotlight on Republicans who do support the release of Trump’s tax returns, especially since many of them represent districts expected to be competitive in 2018.

When House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) offered a resolution on Trump’s tax returns on Wednesday, he singled out Rep. Steve Knight (R-Calif.) for telling his constituents at a recent town hall meeting that he thought Trump should release his returns.

Knight, who represents a district won by Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonClinton defends April Ryan, Rep. Maxine Waters in speech Lobbying world Trump puts foreign investors first by supporting the Republican tax plan MORE in the election, still sided with the Republicans on Wednesday’s vote, as he had on the previous two occasions.

Knight’s communications director, Dan Outlaw, told a California news outlet that the congressman thinks legislation on Trump’s tax returns needs to be considered through regular order. 

“Rep. Knight believes that like other presidents before him, Donald TrumpDonald TrumpManafort-linked accounts on Cyprus probed: report Republican failure Trump's environmental order jeopardizes our national security MORE should disclose his full tax returns to put this issue to rest once and for all, though he disagrees with the tactics being pursued by his colleagues on the other side of the aisle to bypass the legislative process to accomplish this,” Outlaw told The Signal, which covers the Santa Clarita Valley. 

Other GOP lawmakers also think that Trump should voluntarily make his tax returns public and that Congress should not force the release of the documents. 

“Congressman Gaetz absolutely personally believes that President Trump would be best served to release his tax returns,” said Amanda Cogan, chief of staff to Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). “He does not believe Congress has the power or basis to demand them.” 

Cogan added that Gaetz “intends to vote against these Democrat distractions from the real issues impacting quality of life for the American people.” 

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), another top target of Democrats in 2018, thinks giving Congress power to force the tax returns’ release could set a bad precedent.

“The procedural motions Democrats have presented are merely publicity stunts with the objective of confusing the American people. While the congressman still believes the president must be transparent with the public, Congress has no power to arbitrarily publish the tax returns of any American,” Curbelo spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez said.   

Still other Republicans who think Trump’s tax returns should be released say Democrats are going about it the wrong way.

Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashObamaCare gets new lease on life Top Republican: The healthcare bill is dead House GOP abandons ObamaCare repeal effort in stunning defeat MORE (R-Mich.) indicated he’d be open to supporting a measure requesting Trump’s tax returns, but under circumstances that aren’t just a procedural vote.

“We’re not discussing the substantive issue. The question is whether they can even raise that question at the time. And I’m a stickler for the rules,” Amash said in an interview.

Other Republicans who’ve declined to support forcing Trump to release his returns — but have said they think he should release them — include Reps. David Young (Iowa), John Katko (N.Y.), Will Hurd (Texas), Tom MacArthur (N.J.) and Leonard Lance (N.J.).

The two GOP lawmakers who have backed Democrats’ efforts are Reps. Walter Jones (N.C.) and Mark Sanford (S.C.). 

Jones and Sanford both joined a Democratic letter urging the chairmen of the tax-writing committees to request Trump’s tax returns from the Treasury Department. Jones has also voted twice with the Democrats on floor votes relating to Trump’s tax returns, while Sanford has voted “present.”

Still, it is rare for lawmakers to buck their party on procedural votes, particularly on privileged resolutions forced by the minority party.

Jones and Sanford both have a reputation for being willing to break party ranks. Sanford on Thursday voted in committee against advancing the House GOP bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare, and Jones has also expressed opposition to that measure. 

Jones explained his positions on the Democratic motions by saying that he’s simply voted his conscience ever since deeply regretting his vote to authorize the Iraq War. 

“I sent 4,000 Americans to die, and I knew better. I said from then on, I just do what I think is right. Is that very popular with a lot on my side? No, not at all. But when it’s all said and done, and my day is called to go to heaven, I would hope that the Lord will look at me and say, ‘Walter, you’re welcome, because I think you did what you thought was right for your people.’ ”

When it comes to Trump’s tax returns, Jones said: “If you believe in ethics, and you think this place should be a place of ethics for the good of the people, I don’t know how you can vote any other way. I really don’t.”