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Congresswoman Val Demings Cosponsors Inherent Contempt Bill

ORLANDO, FL – Today, Rep. Val Demings (FL-10) helped introduce new legislation to enable Congress to independently enforce subpoenas and other Congressional actions by directly levying penalties against people who refuse to comply.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ted W. Lieu and cosponsored by Rep. Demings, is also cosponsored by Reps. David Cicilline (D-RI), Jaime Raskin (D-MD), Madeline Dean (D-PA) and Joe Neguse (D-CO). All are members of the House Judiciary Committee.

The bill amends House rules to provide a clear and fair method to implement Congress’ inherent ability to hold individuals in contempt and levy penalties for failure to comply with subpoenas.

Said Rep. Demings, “The Department of Justice prosecutes cases of Contempt of Congress. But what happens when the person in contempt is the head of the Justice Department? The Trump Administration’s refusal to cooperate with Congress is a threat to Congress’ position as a co-equal branch of government. It is clear that if America is going to survive as a nation of laws, Congress must renew its legal authority to unilaterally hold government officials in inherent contempt. I’m glad to join Rep. Lieu and other colleagues to help restore the fundamental principle of checks and balances to our government.”

Said Rep. Lieu, “It doesn’t require a lot of imagination to see why this bill is necessary. Nearly every House committee has been blocked by the Trump Administration at one point or another from getting testimony and documents needed to conduct oversight. We’re over a year into litigating multiple Congressional subpoenas in court. We have already held two cabinet officials in criminal contempt. All of this, and the American public still doesn’t have answers about the extent of the Trump Administration’s abuses of power. As a co-equal branch of government, it’s our responsibility to serve as an independent check of the Executive branch. This bill enables us to hold those who refuse to abide by the law accountable.”

Said Rep. Cicilline, “The Framers designed a system of government rooted in three co-equal branches – legislative, executive, and judicial. In spite of this, Donald Trump has tried to make the executive branch supreme to Congress and the courts. Restoring our inherent contempt powers to enforce subpoenas will ensure that neither he nor any future president ever again tries to deny Congress the ability to conduct lawful investigations on behalf of the American people.”

Said Rep. Raskin, “The Supreme Court has said throughout history that Congress has the full power to enforce its own orders by holding violators in contempt, just as the Court itself has this power. The Administration’s continuing defiance of the Congressional oversight power, a fundamental attribute of our constitutional rights and duties, is intolerable and we must act to end it. This legislation is urgently needed and constitutionally compelled.”

Said Rep. Dean, “In the past few years we’ve seen a President and an administration that has very little regard for Congress’s oversight powers, co-equal branches of government, and the rule of law – by refusing to testify, produce documents, and even respond to our letters. It is clear that the norms that kept our system of checks and balances functioning need to be strengthened with concrete rules and laws, and this legislation is a necessary step in restoring the balance of power between co-equal branches of government as the founders intended.”

Said Rep. Neguse, “As members of the House Judiciary Committee, we’ve witnessed firsthand the repeated obstruction of Congress by the Trump administration. Congress has a constitutional responsibility to conduct oversight, and if this administration — or any other administration — refuses to cooperate, there are other lawful mechanisms at our disposal that Congress can and should exercise. By reasserting Congress’ historical inherent contempt powers, we can restore the ability of the legislative branch to fulfill its constitutional responsibilities.”

What the Congressional Inherent Contempt Power Act does:

  • Creates a process for dialogue and accommodation between a senior responsible official at an agency or with a private individual, in pursuit of requested documents or witnesses;
  • Allows agencies or persons to register objections, and allows Congress to hold public hearings to consider specific objections, where agency officials or persons can make their case;
  • Allows the President to register objections and assert executive privilege where appropriate, in writing and directly;
  • Allows the Committee to report a resolution of contempt, privileged under Rule XI of the House, to the full House for consideration;
  • Allows for the Chairman of the Committee to present the case for passage before the full House, with time allotted for questions from Members on the floor;
  • Allows for one floor vote on passage of the resolution of contempt, including the imposition of monetary penalties against the contemnor;
  • Caps the total monetary penalties for noncompliance at not more than $100,000;
  • Sets the initial penalty at not more than $25,000, with a one-time compliance period of 20

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