Elizabeth Warren's ethics bill is moving to the House. Does the new Democratic Congress want it?
Some of the provisions in the companion legislation from Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., will connect directly to President Trump’s conduct in office, others on recent scandals in the administration and Congress.
Some of the measures on both Warren's bill and proposed House companion legislation connect directly to President Trump’s conduct in office.Joseph Prezioso / AFP - Getty Images
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WASHINGTON — A sweeping ethics bill by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is making the jump to the newly Democratic House.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., plans to introduce companion legislation in the coming days that she hopes will become a rallying point for progressives.
The Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act is headlined by a lifetime ban on lobbying by former lawmakers, presidents and top executive branch appointees, but includes a wide array of additional provisions.
Some connect directly to President Donald Trump’s conduct in office, like a proposed requirement that presidents make tax returns public and sell off companies to avoid conflicts of interest. Others touch on recent scandals in the administration and Congress, including a provision banning individual stock trading by government officials and another banning Americans from lobbying for foreign governments.
“The influence of money cannot be overstated in this town,” Warren said Thursday in a phone interview with NBC News. “It’s going to take a lot of different places to fight back, and that’s what this bill is about.”
With Republicans holding onto the Senate after the midterm elections, Warren’s version likely isn’t getting a vote anytime soon. But the upcoming Democratic Congress looks more promising: Leaders have already announced they plan to include a separate package of ethics reforms in their first bill, H.R. 1.
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Jayapal, who serves as vice chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, says she supports that legislation but is hoping her own bill with Warren helps pressure Democrats to go further.
“We don’t want people to think they can just sort of clap their hands and say ‘We passed H.R. 1, we’re done,’ because the problems run deep,” said Jayapal Thursday.
One obstacle the two identified in building support among their colleagues is concern that a far-reaching bill might open members up to a political counterattack for not having voluntarily instituted the same rules in the past.
Jayapal said she had nicknamed their legislation the “Nobody’s Perfect” bill to reassure members that the goal was to create a new set of rules moving forward rather than to harangue potential co-sponsors for following the current ones.
“When we pass it, we will all be compliant," she said. "That’s the point of it."
Warren and other Senate Democrats faced hypocrisy charges of their own during the midterm cycle, as critics pushed them to cast out Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who was “severely admonished” by the Senate Ethics Committee for accepting flights and luxury accommodations from a donor who was later convicted of fraud.
Menendez survived an indictment on related corruption charges last year, which the Justice Department dropped after a mistrial, and won re-election last week. Prominent Democrats like Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., campaigned for him and Warren’s campaign committee donated $5,000 to a victory fund backing him, according to FEC disclosures first reported on by the Daily Beast.
“I helped a lot of my colleagues at the federal level and the state level and helped state Democratic parties, but this isn’t about politics," Warren said. "This about how we make Washington a place that works for the people."
Asked whether Menendez should resign, Warren said her focus was on “building a government we can believe in going forward” with more stringent rules that would make clear to lawmakers what behavior is over the line.
While so far there are no Republican sponsors for Warren’s bill, she said she sees some potential for cooperation across party lines. She said she’s held discussions with Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., after he put out an ethics bill of his own this year that included some similar features.
Either way, with Warren considered likely to run for president, an ongoing push to pass the measure in the House could keep it a high-profile issue during a campaign.
“People in Congress understand the influence of money on the political process,” Warren said. “They know that we need change. We just need to have the courage to step up and do it.”
Benjy Sarlin is a political reporter for NBC News.