Expect Democrats to immediately try to force President Trump to release his tax returns if they take back the House in November, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday.
Demanding the president’s tax returns “is one of the first things we’d do — that’s the easiest thing in the world. That’s nothing,” Pelosi told The Chronicle’s editorial board in an hour-long interview.
Although a 1924 provision of the Internal Revenue Code gives certain congressional committees the right to request — and release — the tax records of even the president, it’s unlikely Trump would surrender those documents without an all-out legal battle. He has refused to release his returns since he announced he was running for president, arguing first that he was being audited and later that voters don’t care.
The GOP-led Congress has joined in keeping those records private, regularly voting down Democratic efforts to make Trump turn them over.
Forcing Trump to release his returns would not necessarily make them public, but would allow a Democratic-run congressional committee to decide whether there is information in those returns that needs to be investigated.
Whether that happens hinges on Democrats winning the House or the Senate. With the Nov. 6 election less than four weeks away, Pelosi sounded confident about both the House Democrats’ chances and her own political future.
“I believe we would win if the election was today,” she said. And although more than 50 Democratic candidates have said they wouldn’t vote for Pelosi to lead the House, the San Francisco Democrat said, “I believe I will be speaker if we win.”
Releasing the president’s tax returns to a congressional committee would not be revenge for the way Trump and GOP leaders have treated the Democratic minority for the past two years, but a simple matter of oversight by Congress, “a co-equal body of government,” Pelosi said.
“We have to have the truth,” she said.
Payback isn’t going to be part of a Democratic-led House, Pelosi promised, pushing back against what she called the “pound of flesh crowd” of Democrats eager to repay Republicans for every political slight and attack since Trump was elected.
“We will seek bipartisanship where we can,” Pelosi said. “One of the reasons we should win is that we’re not like them, and we’re not going to be like them.”
The Democratic leader also says she doesn’t have much choice. No matter what happens on election day, Trump is still going to be president and she will have to work with him.
“We need to get a signature, which requires some bipartisanship, some common ground,” Pelosi said, which she admitted wasn’t always easy.
“I, probably more than most people do, respect the office he serves in, probably more than he does,” she said. “But he is the president — we have to find our common ground. … We want to get results for the American people.”
But that’s going to mean discussions and compromise, not surrender, Pelosi said. Democrats “will never negotiate away our values,” she said.
Pelosi is confident there are areas where Democrats can reach agreement with Trump and Republicans, as they did when Republican George W. Bush was president.
Despite disputes over the Iraq War and other issues, “we worked together, we disagree and we agreed, and that’s the marketplace of ideas that we live in,” she said.
Areas where there could be common ground include national infrastructure improvements, a plan for Dreamers, undocumented residents who arrived in this country as minors, and ways to curb gun violence, Pelosi said.
There’s also public support for efforts to allow the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate for lower drug prices, she added.
Pelosi also weighed in on some local issues, saying she supported San Francisco’s efforts to establish a safe injection site for drug users, something Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed last month. She also backed changes in federal marijuana laws, although she admitted, “I don’t see this president signing any such thing.”
But those concerns are far from the top of the Democrats’ “to-do” list if they take back the House.
“The first order of business is the economic security of America’s working families — that is what people care about,” Pelosi said.
For Pelosi, that concern connects directly with San Francisco’s Proposition C, which would tax large companies to raise an estimated $300 million a year for homeless programs.
Pelosi said she supports the measure because it’s something the city needs to do. She acknowledged the opposition from her political ally Mayor London Breed, who has said that before the city pours millions of dollars more into homeless programs, “San Franciscans deserve accountability for the money they are already paying.”
“I don’t disagree with the mayor that there should be accountability and there should be a plan” about how to use the funds, Pelosi said. “I have great confidence in the mayor that she can handle it if Prop. C wins.”
Efforts to deal with social problems like homelessness, hunger and housing insecurity require a new vision from Congress, she said.
“We have to think in a different way about it, and when we think big, we have to put our hands in the pockets where the money is,” Pelosi said.
Homelessness “is not an issue, it’s a value. It’s an ethic that we have not properly addressed.”