“I’ll be the oversight”: Trump claims he can gag Congress’s watchdog for coronavirus bailouts

The idea of oversight won bipartisan support in Congress.
The idea of oversight won bipartisan support in Congress.
Image: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

This week the US Congress wrangled over how to ensure pandemic relief loans for corporations were given out responsibly. Under the final legislation, an independent watchdog is supposed to gather information for lawmakers about those loans and, if they get thwarted, let Congress know. That’s what negotiators from both parties decided on, and what the House and Senate both approved.

Yesterday Donald Trump announced that he was going to ignore all that.

In a so-called signing statement, Trump said that the watchdog, technically a “special inspector general,” actually won’t be allowed to tell Congress if executive branch officials—such as Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin—stonewall, unless the executive branch approves.

Trump said his administration would not treat the provision “as permitting the [Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery] to issue reports to the Congress without the presidential supervision required by the Take Care Clause, Article II, section 3.”

That clause of the US Constitution requires the president to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Trump’s statement cites it while claiming he gets final say over what the special inspector general tells Congress. In essence, Trump asserts that the law lawmakers passed is unconstitutional—and rather than asking a court to settle the dispute, he is just going to ignore it.

Democrats had earlier expressed concerned that the $500 billion fund of loans, to be distributed by Mnuchin, would be a “slush fund.” The inspector-general provision was tacked on to add a degree of oversight, with the role being to independently keep track of who the loans were made to and why—and to tell Congress.

After Trump seemingly nullified the watchdog’s ability to share that information with Congress, House representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted:

When asked by reporters earlier this week about oversight of the lending, Trump replied, “I’ll be the oversight.”

Trump is by no means the first US president to employ signing statements to ignore bits of laws he dislikes. George W. Bush used them frequently—earning the condemnation of then-senator Barack Obama, the constitutional law professor. But Obama, as president, used them too.

Last year Trump temporarily blocked the intelligence community’s inspector general from telling Congress about the whistleblower complaint over his dealings with Ukraine. Once Congress found out, that issue led to Trump being impeached, then acquitted by the Republican-led Senate, earlier this year.