Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-MD) has introduced legislation that would prohibit the government from paying for federal employees’s travel expenses if they are staying at a hotel owned by President Trump or his family when on official travel.
In a press release, Raskin accused President Trump of being in violation of the Constitution’s domestic emoluments clause because of his business holdings and said the legislation was needed as a result.
The Emoluments Clause and Previous Lawsuits
Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution reads, “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”
Regarding domestic emoluments, Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution says, “The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be encreased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.”
An emolument is a “salary, fee, or profit from employment or office.” According to Bloomberg, the original intent of the foreign emoluments provision of the Constitution was to discourage early American leaders from being influenced by gifts from European governments.
Two lawsuits brought against Trump for violating the emoluments clause were dismissed late last year by a federal judge who said the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue. U.S. District Court Judge George Daniels also said that the matter was one that should be decided by Congress, not the courts.
One of the lawsuits was filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, along with a group of employees and owners of hospitality businesses, and the other was a class action lawsuit on behalf of members of the public filed by New York attorney William Weinstein.
According to Politico, the basis of the lawsuits ultimately dismissed by the judge were as follows:
CREW claimed it had standing because Trump’s failure to divest his businesses had cause the organization to expend resources it would have used elsewhere, but the judge said that claim was too weak to sustain the suit.
The class-action case claimed that Trump was violating promises he made to distance himself from his businesses, but Daniels said that kind of promise wasn’t enforceable in court.
President Trump has pledged not to take a salary while in office, something not addressed by the lawsuits. He has donated his salary to several federal agencies for different purposes: the National Park Service for for battlefield infrastructure, the Department of Education to fund a summer camp, the Department of Health and Human Services to battle opioid addiction, and most recently to the Department of Transportation for domestic infrastructure rebuilding.
The HOTEL Act
Raskin’s bill represents an effort in Congress along the lines of what Judge Daniels was referencing, namely that any violation of the emoluments clause would have to be dealt with by Congress.
Raskin, who has been a professor of constitutional law at American University’s Washington College of Law for over 25 years, said in a statement, “If the President does not have enough respect for the Constitution to refuse extra government payments beyond his official salary, then we must cut the unlawful payments off at the source.”
The “source” in this case is the federal workforce. The legislation would accomplish its objectives by barring agencies from spending money at any Trump properties.
Raskin says in his press release on the bill:
The Constitution prohibits the President from receiving any emolument (any profit, benefit, gift, or payment) other than his salary while in office, but President Trump has continued to receive profits from his properties. These profits include taxpayer money paid to Trump properties by various federal government agencies patronizing Trump businesses.
According to Raskin, “We must stop all executive branch officials, all of whom report ultimately to President Trump, from spending public dollars at Trump hotels, restaurants, golf courses and other businesses. This is a ludicrous situation.”
The Heightened Oversight of Travel, Eating, and Lodging (HOTEL) Act (H.R. 5304) would prohibit federal agencies from paying for federal employees’ per diem allowances or travel reimbursements for lodging or dining services at any properties owned by the President or his family.