John Sarbanes

Sweeping Changes Proposed for Foreign Lobbying Law
Critics: Proposal overreacts to Mueller indictments

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A bill introduced by Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley in response to indictments in the special counsel’s Russia probe would have far-reaching consequences for U.S. representatives of foreign governments, foreign companies and other international interests.

The Iowa Republican put forward the measure last week after Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III announced indictments in his investigation of possible Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Republican Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana introduced an identical bill in his chamber.

House Democrats Want to Use Minibus to Target Trump Ethics
Rules Committee likely to nix attempts to force issue

Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes says Democrats will use the tools at their disposal to force action on President Donald Trump's ethics. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

House Democrats this week are trying to hitch a slate of amendments to the appropriations minibus, all targeting the business, family members and scandals of President Donald Trump.

The amendments, offered in the Rules Committee, are part of the minority party’s larger effort to tie their Republican colleagues to Trump’s possible conflicts of interest stemming from his business holdings and the government’s probe of alleged collusion by Trump campaign officials with Russia to influence the 2016 elections.

House Democrats Focus on Ethics, Political Money
Effort is aimed at highlighting president’s ethics woes

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi House Minority says Democrats were developing a series of legislative proposals that would include updates to the nation’s ethics and elections systems. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Amid the collapse of a signature piece of Republican health care legislation and continued revelations about the Trump team’s ties to Russia, House Democrats have turned their spotlight on proposals to revamp ethics, campaign finance and voting rights laws.

“We’re fighting back against the lack of accountability that we see in the Trump administration and from special interests,” said Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes, who chairs his party’s Democracy Reform Task Force.

Supreme Court Affirms Ban on ‘Soft Money’ in Campaigns
Opponents of ban say they will take concerns to Congress

Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., applauded the high court's decision to let a lower court's ruling on the case stand. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Supreme Court on Monday upheld the so-called soft money ban on state and local parties, prompting opponents of the restriction to turn their pleas for repeal to Congress.

Although proponents of political money limits cheered the decision, they said that new Justice Neil Gorsuch’s position on the case confirmed their fears about his campaign finance views.

Word on the Hill: Calm Before the Recess
Your social calendar for the week

OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, center, GPO Director Davita Vance-Cooks, left, and other officials review production of the fiscal 2018 budget at the Government Publishing Office's plant on North Capitol Street on Friday. The budget will be released this week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

It’s the last week before the Memorial Day recess.

There are a few things going on to get you through until the long weekend and four-day break.

Pileup of Ethical Issues Gives Democrats Powerful Weapon Against Trump
Fog of suspicion continues to dog president on all sides

President Donald Trump faces a motivated Democratic opposition aiming to weaken his power and thwart his administration’s policy agenda at every turn. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

A small, previously obscure federal ethics office has catalogued a burst of inquiries and complaints from the public — more than 30,000 — since Donald Trump’s election as president, compared to a few hundred in all of fiscal 2015.

The huge increase in public outreach to the Office of Government Ethics reflects an administration with unprecedented corporate entanglements and an outwardly blase approach to ethics statutes and the truth, as well as a flair for scandal and drama.

Group Strives to ‘Make Congress Great Again’
Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group has a bipartisan following

Lee Drutman, left, and Kevin Kosar are the founders of the Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group, which is focused on bringing together congressional staff from all sides to brainstorm ways to improve Congress. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Its name is a mouthful, but the Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group has gained a following for its mission to strengthen a polarized and unpopular Congress.

The founders come from think tanks in different positions on the political spectrum. Kevin Kosar spent 11 years at the Congressional Research Service before leaving for the “free market” R Street Institute. Lee Drutman is a senior fellow at the more liberal New America.

Liberals Put Political Money in Spotlight of Gorsuch Fight
Senate Democrats urged to probe nominee’s views on campaign finance law

North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, seen here meeting with Judge Neil Gorsuch last month, is facing pressure from liberals and conservatives ahead of the Supreme Court nominee’s confirmation hearings. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democratic lawmakers and liberal interest groups are intensifying their pressure on senators to probe Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s views on campaign finance law during his confirmation hearings next week.

“He does not come into this with the benefit of the doubt in his favor,” said Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Judiciary Committee member. The panel is scheduled to begin the Colorado judge’s hearings at 11 a.m. Monday.

Getting Metro Safety Back on Track
New commission will be empowered to adopt tough safety rules

Democratic lawmakers from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia are calling for Congress to approve the Metro Safety Commission promptly. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Washington Metro system has its good days and its bad ones. On its best, it carries hundreds of thousands of commuters and visitors around our metro area. On its worst, maintenance and safety issues have caused enraging delays and even heartbreaking accidents. The people living in our region and those visiting our nation’s capital deserve to know that when they get on Metro they will arrive at their destinations safely.

That’s why we introduced legislation last week to establish a new Metro Safety Commission, putting Metro on a path to safer operations. And today, we are sending a letter to the Government Accountability Office, asking them to analyze the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s funding and governance structure and issue recommendations for changes. WMATA is distinct among transit agencies in that it is governed by four separate entities, creating unique challenges for collective action on fundamental questions such as how to fund the system. A GAO deep-dive on these questions could yield valuable and objective insight.

Trump’s Business Tangles Rankle Democrats, Watchdog Groups
Critic questions whether the Oval Office will become ’another revenue center’

Then-GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump in March gave a tour at the construction site for the Trump International Hotel, at the Old Post Office Pavilion in downtown Washington. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The potential ethics pitfalls stemming from Donald Trump’s private enterprises will test congressional Democrats and government watchdog groups, as they try to pressure the incoming president to fully separate himself from his global business deals.

It is likely to be a long fight, spanning well into Trump’s presidency.