Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) signed on this week to a Democratic procedural effort to force a vote on legislation that would require President Trump to make his tax returns public, making him the first Republican to back the effort.
Trump broke with long-standing precedent in the 2016 presidential campaign by refusing to release his tax returns. Trump claimed that he can’t publish his returns because they’re under audit, but the IRS has said an audit doesn’t prevent returns from being made public.
In response, Democrats launched a procedure known as a discharge petition last month on Rep. Anna Eshoos (D-Calif.) bill requiring presidents and presidential candidates to provide their last three years of federal income tax returns to the Office of Government Ethics or the Federal Election Commission.
Those agencies would then make the tax returns available to the public. If a president or candidate refuses to disclose their tax returns, the agencies would have to ask for the returns from the Internal Revenue Service.
Three other Republicans have cosponsored the underlying legislation: Reps. Mark Sanford (S.C.),(Mich.) and(Fla.). None have signed onto the discharge petition, however, and typically dont endorse Democratic procedural efforts.
Democrats have been forcing near-weekly votes since late February on resolutions to direct the House Ways and Means Committee to ask the IRS for Trumps tax returns, most recently on Wednesday.
Jones has voted with Democrats on all of those resolutions, but Sanford has voted present because he disagrees with the procedural method despite believing Trump should release his tax returns.
Discharge petitions must get 218 signatures to trigger a vote on the House floor. Its a tool frequently used by the minority party to draw attention to an issue, but is rarely effective.
The discharge petition for Eshoo’s bill currently has 191 signatures, meaning it needs at least 27 more endorsements to move forward. It’s unlikely enough Republicans would sign onto the effort.
The last time a discharge petition resulted in a floor vote was in 2015, when enough Republicans joined with Democrats to bring up legislation to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank despite objections from the committee chairman of jurisdiction, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) of the Financial Services panel.
Before that, a discharge petition had last been successful in 2002 to bring up campaign finance reform legislation.
Jones, whos served in the House since 1995, frequently bucks GOP leaders on a range of issues. He also signed a Democratic discharge petition on Wednesday to push for a vote on legislation to establish an independent bipartisan commission to investigate Russias attempts to influence the 2016 election.