Updated 12:30 p.m. March 3 | Republican Reps. Mark Sanford and Walter B. Jones have occasionally bucked their party, so their stance on a procedural question this week about President Donald Trump’s tax returns is noteworthy.
Sanford of South Carolina and Jones of North Carolina voted “present” on Monday night as the House decided along party lines, 229-185, to effectively block a vote on a resolution by New Jersey Democrat Bill Pascrell Jr. aimed at directing the Ways and Means Committee to obtain Trump’s tax returns for the past 10 years.
Even if they didn’t vote with the Democrats, Sanford and Jones essentially took their side by voting “present.” To these Republicans, the issue is one of transparency.
“It’s something I feel very, very strongly about,” Sanford told CQ Roll Call on Tuesday. “Ultimately, it isn’t about Trump’s tax returns. It’s about the continuation of a policy that’s been in place for 50 years by virtue of tradition. What happens at the federal level has real implications at the state and local level.”
Jones said in an interview that Americans “need to know” about their president’s taxes.
Trump has steadfastly refused to release his tax returns, saying he cannot do so while under audit. He was the first major party presidential nominee since Gerald Ford in 1976 not to make the disclosure.
Democrats have said Trump’s tax returns are needed to examine potential financial links to Russian investors in light of Russia’s interference in last year’s elections. They also contend the tax returns could help determine whether Trump has conflicts of interests when he takes positions on legislation such as tax proposals.
Both Sanford and Jones signed a March 2 letter circulated by Pascrell requesting the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee to use their statutory authorities to obtain Trump’s tax returns for review in executive session. The House panel has already rebuffed Pascrell, and his letter is likely to have little sway with Senate tax writers.
Pascrell said the letter already had signatures of more than 140 House Democrats.
“It’s politics, pure and simple,” Hatch, a Utah Republican, said in an interview Wednesday.
Key players in both parties say the issue is likely to come up continually in committee and floor votes.
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on Finance, voiced hope that the stance taken by Sanford and Jones would help build support in both parties for various proposals dealing with Trump and any future president’s tax returns.
“I’m just watching these Republicans speaking out in the House like Mark Sanford,” said Wyden, who has been pushing his own bill to require presidents and presidential nominees to release their tax returns. The measure has 19 co-sponsors, all Democrats.
Some Republicans, including several veterans of the 2016 presidential race, are expressing interest in making the release of tax returns a requirement in future presidential elections.
“Any candidate running in 2020 needs to release their tax returns,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Sen. Marco Rubio said he would have an interest in such legislation, but took no firm position. “Maybe,” the Florida Republican said.
Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard M. Burr, a senior tax writer, and other senior Republicans are skeptical and frustrated.
“Why would we do something like that to his tax returns? What basis would we ask for his taxes? You know, he filled out a pretty detailed financial disclosure,” said Burr, a North Carolina Republican.
South Dakota’s John Thune, the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, suggested the book on the issue is closed.
“That got litigated last fall. I don’t think it’s going to happen,” he said.