FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — You might expect a congressional town hall in a safely Democratic district to be a relatively staid affair. And you would be correct, until one woman near the front of the conference space at a municipal recreation complex here in South Florida stood up to ask the ranking Democrat on the House Ethics Committee about enforcement of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause.
Citing reports about the roughly $60,000 in golf cart rental fees incurred by the Secret Service at facilities including President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in nearby Palm Beach, the questioner asked, “I want to know why everyone in this administration is thumbing their nose at my Emoluments Clause. Why are they getting rich?”
That led to shouts, applause, a partial standing ovation and more heckling than had been heard in the entirety of the previous hour of the town hall with Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch.
A gentleman seated near the front of the room interrupted Deutch’s first attempt at a response to say, “Why are you being so nice about this?”
“As the ranking member of the Ethics Committee, I was a guy who was warning people about the Emoluments Clause before the president was sworn into office,” Deutch said, reminding the audience of the attempt by then-President-elect Trump and his legal team to show separation from the Trump organization.
The constitutional provision bars government officials from receiving things of value without consent of the Congress, especially from foreign government entities.
“It wasn’t believable then. It’s not believable now,” he said. “The idea that this ... clear line has been drawn between the president and his business and his family, that’s just not supported in the facts that we’ve seen.”
The Ethics Committee generally deals with internal House matters, but Deutch also sits on the Judiciary Committee, which has investigative capacities itself.
The shouts continued for a bit, and audible amid the cacophony was one person saying that Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner should be in prison.
Deutch sought to explain the political reality, while being careful to avoid crossing too far in to talk of electoral politics at an official event. He directed much of his criticism (and that of a clear majority of the 300 or so in the audience) at House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va.
“The only way for Congress to carry out its official duties is for the chairman of a committee to call an investigation,” Deutch said. “All of the Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee — every single one — has written repeatedly to Chairman Goodlatte to tell him that he has a responsibility on behalf of the American people to let the Judiciary Committee to do it’s job.”
“The response has been a deafening silence. That’s the problem,” he said.
Deutch pointed to Democratic calls for hearings on Trump business practices and on potential obstruction of justice by the president or figures close to him. He also pointed to the fact that the House Judiciary panel has not called upon former FBI Director James B. Comey, who was fired by Trump, to testify.
“I wish we could talk about this at every town hall meeting, and I wish that someone cared about it at every meeting that we went to. I bring it up when I’m in Washington,” Deutch said of the Emouloments Clause in particular. “When I come home to Florida, people have lots of concerns. The potential violation of the Constitution by the president of the United States seems like one that should be a concern to all of us.”