As the White House continues to stonewall Congress’ efforts to conduct anything remotely resembling oversight, at least one Democratic representative is starting to come around to the fact that maybe his subpoena power is, shall we say, a little lacking.
Speaking with Axios’ Mike Allen on Friday, House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Adam Schiff admitted that, so far, the Trump administration has stymied his party’s efforts to obtain any number of testimonies and materials it’s request. So, Schiff said, the House is considering a different tactic: hitting administration officials’ bank accounts.
“Much as I like the visual of [throwing people in jail], I think it’s far more practical to consider levying individual fines on the person, not the office, until they comply,” Schiff explained, in apparent reference to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent joke about locking up Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in “a little jail down in the basement of the Capitol” (which, incidentally, doesn’t actually exist) for refusing to turn over the president’s tax returns.
“You could fine someone $25,000 a day until they comply,” Schiff continued. “You can do that. We’re looking through the history and studying the law to make sure we’re on solid ground.”
As Axios notes, Schiff and his colleagues are looking into resurrecting Congress’ rarely used “inherent contempt” power, which would allow them to actively enforce their own contempt rulings—say, by fining someone an insane amount of money for ignoring their lawfully issued subpoena.
But the fact that House Democrats are exploring such a drastic step is in and of itself a tacit admission that, despite the largely symbolic gesture of having held Attorney General William Barr in contempt earlier this week, Democrats are increasingly at a loss to find some way—any way—to make headway with the Trump administration’s sheer refusal to acknowledge their authority.
Speaking with reporters on Thursday, Speaker Pelosi hinted that Democrats may be ready to hold other Administration officials in contempt for their refusal to honor House subpoenas in one large batch, saying “there might be some other contempt of Congress issues that we want to deal with at the same time.”
Hopefully by the time that happens—if it ever does—the Democrats will have figured out how to actually make it matter.