It's been a rough couple of weeks for those concerned with Donald Trump trying to profit from his own presidency. Between the Republican's efforts to bring a G-7 summit to his struggling business in Miami, Trump's "suggestion" that Vice President Mike Pence stay at his struggling business in Ireland, and the controversy surrounding military support for his struggling business in Scotland, the circumstances look like an ethics lawyer's nightmare.
Not surprisingly, congressional Democrats have a few questions about the administration's practices and the degree to which officials are directing taxpayer funds to the president, his family, and their private-sector ventures. It does not appear, however, that those concerns will be bipartisan.
At a Capitol Hill press conference yesterday, a reporter asked House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), a close White House ally, if "the federal government should be spending money at the president's resorts, especially when he is not staying at them." According to CQ Newsmaker Transcripts, this was the GOP leader's response:
"The president's resorts are hotels that he owns. If people are traveling, it's just like any other hotel. I know people will look at it. I don't know that that's different than anything else."Is it different than if I go and stay or eat at a Marriott here or eat at the Trump? The president isn't asking me to. He's competing in a private enterprise. It's nothing, something that he controls in that process."
I appreciate the fact that McCarthy didn't just dodge the question. This appears to be an issue to which McCarthy has given some thought, and for those of us wondering whether Republicans care about allegations of presidential self-dealing, it's good to hear a GOP articulate the party's perspective.
The trouble, of course, is that McCarthy's argument is woefully inadequate.
There is, in reality, a difference between spending money at a Marriott and spending money at "the Trump." The difference is, one indirectly creates profits for the sitting president who refused to divest from his business enterprise.
It invites corruption when anyone -- from foreign officials to domestic lobbyists to domestic elected officials -- can try to curry favor with a sitting president by opening their wallets at a property he owns.
For McCarthy, so long as Trump doesn't make an explicit request, there's no problem. If only it were that easy. For one thing, in some instances, including Pence's Ireland trip, the president has reportedly "suggested" officials use his business that needs the money. For another, the conflict and opportunity for abuse exists whether there's a presidential request or not.
Amber Phillips added yesterday that McCarthy's explanation "ignores reality. The president's hotels aren't just any hotels. Trump the businessman and Trump the politician are the same, and Trump refuses to do much to extricate one persona from the other."
Evidently, congressional Republicans are prepared to tolerate the corruption because they share a party affiliation with the president. It's enough to make one question the sincerity of those who vowed to "drain the swamp."