House Panels Threaten Subpoenas Over Trump Effort to Trash Affordable Care Act

Upset by the GOP Trump Justice Department’s decision to use federal courts to destroy the Affordable Care Act, the Democratic chairs of five House com-mittees, including the Education and Labor Committee, are threatening to issue subpoenas to both DOJ and the White House counsel to see whether Trump ordered the move.

The letters are the lawmakers’ second attempt to get such records from White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Attorney General William Barr. Neither sent anything by the original April 22 deadline.

Assuming the lawmakers’ May 13 follow-up letter produces no substantive response by May 24, “we will have no choice but to consider alternative means of compliance,” the chairmen warned. That’s legalese for “issuing a subpoena.”

The latest letter follows yet another instance of Trump refusal to follow the U.S. Constitution and the oversight responsibilities it assigns to Congress.

House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., sent the identical letters to Cipollone and Barr.

The five committees have good reason to subpoena the ACA communication records. The Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce and Education and Labor Committees basically wrote the ACA in 2009-10.

The Judiciary Committee would decide whether to impeach Trump. Calls for doing so increased in the week of May 20, after more Trump stonewalling. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich. joined Dems in saying Trump is impeachable.

The letters also came just before U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in D.C. ordered Trump’s accounting firm to turn over his financial records to the Oversight Committee. Mehta’s May 20 ruling was the first in what will be a raft of such decisions on Trump resistance to congressional oversight. Nadler says that’s illegal, too.

The chairmen said their oversight responsibilities include whether the White House ordered the DOJ to file its May 13 brief in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, demanding its judges declare the entire ACA unconstitutional, following the prior lead of a GOP-named federal judge in rural red-state Texas.

“This action could deprive millions of Americans of health insurance coverage, including 133 million people with pre-existing conditions. We requested that you produce eight categories of documents relating to the White House's involvement in this sudden and extremely troubling reversal,” the lawmakers’ ACA letters to Barr and Cipollone said.

“The White House failed to respond in any way to this request. Instead, on May 1, 2019, the Department of Justice filed a 50-page brief…elaborating on the Trump administration's new – and flawed -- legal position.”

The lawmakers pointed out that in all past administrations, when DOJ found one section of a law – which it’s supposed to defend – unconstitutional, “the rest of the law should not be struck down unless it is ‘evident Congress would not have enacted those provisions which are within its power, independently of those which are not.’”

But DOJ argued in court that when Congress used the GOP-Trump tax cut for companies and the rich to revoke the ACA’s “individual mandate” – the $700 tax individuals were supposed to pay if they didn’t get health insurance through employers or the ACA’s exchanges – that made the whole law unconstitutional.

“The faulty legal reasoning” in that brief to the appeals court judges “underscores the concerns we raised…that politically motivated forces inside the White House and the Office of Management and Budget may have brought undue pressure on the Department of Justice to reverse its prior legal conclusions and disregard its own legal reasoning in violation of the Constitution's solemn charge to ‘take care that the laws are faithfully executed.’”

The “take care” language is straight from the president’s oath of office.

“Given the grave consequences that would result if the Trump administration's legal position were to prevail, it is Congress's responsibility as an independent and co-equal branch of government to understand how this decision was made,” the five committee chairmen said. They also want to interview Trump’s acting OMB Director, Russ Vought, behind closed doors.  

"If the president and his administration truly stand by their decision to seek to eliminate health insurance coverage for millions of Americans, it is unclear why the White House would cover up its role in this unprecedented and disastrous reversal,” they said.