Nancy Pelosi says that a bill to ban members of Congress from trading stocks is coming this month.
But members who’ve been pushing the issue for months say they’re skeptical of leadership’s efforts.
Key advocates say they’ve been left in the dark. “I just don’t want to play games,” said Rep. Spanberger.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made headlines last week when she signaled that legislation to ban members of Congress from trading stocks could be coming in September.
“We believe we have a product that we can bring to the floor this month,” Pelosi told reporters at her weekly press conference on Wednesday, though she deflected when pressed for details about it. “You know what? When the bill comes out, you’ll see what it is.”
But members of Congress who’ve pushed for a vote for months — an effort that began with a flurry of proposals in the wake of Insider’s own “Conflicted Congress” investigation last year and Pelosi’s initial dismissal of the idea — reacted with skepticism to the Speaker’s comments.
In interviews with Insider at the Capitol over the last week, several House Democrats expressed cautious optimism about seeing legislative text this month, though they say they’re not holding their breath.
“I’m optimistic,” said Democratic Rep. Angie Craig of Minnesota. “We’ll see how far it goes in the end.”
Many also described a legislative process that’s been highly insular, with leading proponents of ready-to-go legislation being left in the dark about Democratic leadership’s plans and, in some cases, skeptical that leadership is even sincere about enacting a ban into law. Chief among their concerns: the potential for error-riddled, overly-broad legislation that makes a mockery of the effort, or using an increasingly-full legislative agenda as an excuse to not act.
“I’m concerned about the lack of detail as to what is being planned,” said Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois. “The clock is winding down here pretty fast.”
And with Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon apparently punting the introduction of legislation in the Senate until after the midterms, all eyes are now on the House of Representatives to see what may emerge ahead of the November elections — if anything.
On Thursday, the Committee on House Administration briefed the staff of members most involved with crafting bills to ban congressional stock trading, though according to two Democratic sources, no actual legislative text was presented.
Krishnamoorthi told Insider in a statement following that briefing that leadership’s proposal was “encouraging” while offering something of a veiled warning. “We still have considerable work to do to get this through both chambers. We must remain vigilant,” he said.
Good-government advocacy groups were also briefed about the proposal on Friday, committee spokesman Peter Whippy confirmed to Insider.
“I think it’s clear from my public comments that I remain skeptical,” said Walter Shaub, a senior ethics fellow at the Project on Government Oversight who was present on the call. (On Twitter, Shaub has argued that Democratic leadership’s plans are something of a charade.)
‘I can’t say I’m confident’
Earlier this year, lawmakers introduced a slew of bills to ban stock trading, each with its own unique benefits and downsides. At an April hearing before the Committee on House Administration, members with competing visions to came together on some common principles, perhaps the most crucial of which was the inclusion of spouses and dependent children under any potential ban.
“I think that coalescing is a very real internal dynamic,” Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York told Insider last week.
Those that have put forward legislation in the House have now agreed to a set of principles, among which are: including spouses and dependents in the ban, ensuring any blind trusts are truly blind, and strengthening enforcement measures under the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act.
But the April hearing also revealed a coolness to an outright ban from not just Republicans on the committee, but Democratic Chair Zoe Lofgren, prompting Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia to seek a meeting with her.
“It was very clear that some of the members just were on different planets talking about this issue,” said Spanberger. “Like, ‘Oh, am I going to have to sell my house?'”
The second-term Virginia congresswoman often touts the fact that her own bipartisan stock trade ban bill, the TRUST in Congress Act, has over 65 cosponsors — the most of any proposed legislation. But Pelosi dismissed that fact at her press conference, even as she spoke of a forthcoming “product.”
“Just because — what do they say, they have 60?” asked Pelosi. “That’s not even a quarter of what we need, a third of what we need, to pass a bill, regardless of how bipartisan it is.”
A large majority of both Democratic and Republican voters support prohibiting members of Congress from trading stocks, according to multiple recent polls. But proponents of a ban say the lack of urgency on the part of leadership has fanned doubts about whether something will get done this Congress.
“We have not heard exactly what’s happening,” said Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “I can’t say I’m confident.”
Jayapal also suggested that the lack of communication with key stakeholders isn’t exactly out of the ordinary in the contemporary House. “It’s often the way things work, is that there’s some decision-making that’s happening, and we are trying to make sure that we’re a part of that,” she said.
Pelosi has also frequently pointed to the committee process as the reason for the months-long delay in bringing stock ban legislation to the floor — even as other bills have quickly sailed past the regular committee process and come directly to the floor for a vote.
“It seems like the problem is bills have to go through committee,” said Spanberger. “Except for when they don’t.”
Democratic Rep. Pete Aguilar of California — a member of both House Democratic leadership and the Committee on House Administration — disputed the idea that there was any effort to stall the forthcoming legislation, and pointedly referred to the chamber’s crammed schedule.
“Obviously, there’s not a lot of runway on the calendar,” said Aguilar, adding that Lofgren has “also got a few other things she’s working on.”
The text of Lofgren’s bill to reform the Electoral Count Act was released on Monday, and is expected to receive a vote later this week.
‘Let’s not pretend’
Democratic Rep. Katie Porter of California told Insider that she brought up the need to pass stock ban legislation to Pelosi at a recent lunch with the California delegation, and she found the Speaker receptive. She also said there would soon be an opportunity for members to review the proposal this week.
“I would anticipate getting at least some principles, if not actual draft legislation,” said Porter.
But a meager six legislative days remain before the House adjourns for the entire month of October, not reconvening until after the midterm elections. That leaves scant time for members to read and vote on legislation, despite Pelosi’s comments to the contrary.
And Republicans appear to have been left out of key discussions by the Administration Committee and leadership on the issue of banning stock trading, despite the fact that many of them have co-sponsored both Spanberger’s and Krishnamoorthi’s bills.
Jayapal, for her part, said she still hopes to see passage of a bill before the midterms.
“I think it’s a really popular, populist thing to run on,” she said, though she made clear that she wasn’t just interested in a messaging bill. “Whatever we pass should really be something that the Senate can pass, too.”
But Spanberger said that if leadership puts forward brand new legislation this month, then a vote after the midterms would make more sense — especially given the potential for loopholes or poison pills, such as including the judiciary in reforms.
“The way that you make mistakes is by rushing things,” she said. “I think it’s very prudent to say: we’re going to show you this new piece of legislation, we’ll vote in November or December.”
Coupled with the decision in the Senate to postpone a bill introduction until after the midterms, Democrats could miss the opportunity to capitalize politically on an issue that incenses voters across partisan boundaries.
“I’m not unreasonable on this, I just don’t want to play games,” said Spanberger. “And let’s not pretend.”
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