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Some Thoughts On Where Trump’s Fight With Congress Might Be Headed

United States President Donald J. Trump departs after making a statement on health care at The White House in Washington, DC,. Congress Health Overhaul, Washington DC, USA - 24 Jul 2017 (Rex Features via AP Images)
May 22, 2019 10:46 a.m.

The White House had its first big — albeit ephemeral — defeat on Monday in its campaign to stonewall Congress and in so doing own the libs.

The White House’s effort is quite a project, and one that doesn’t necessarily seem to be meant to succeed on the merits — if it were, it would amount to a radical paring down of congressional power. Rather, the White House may be more oriented towards delaying the House’s investigations until after the 2020 election. By the time Congress can process and draw conclusions from whatever it receives, a new batch of legislators will have been elected and the 2020 cycle will have played itself out.

So, what’s next for that effort?

Most immediately, Trump’s attorneys are headed to Manhattan’s Thurgood Marshall Courthouse this afternoon. There, Judge Edgardo Ramos (an Obama appointee) will hear arguments in a similar case: The President is suing Deutsche Bank and Capital One to prevent them from complying with House subpoenas for his financial records.

I’ll be at the courthouse today covering the hearing, which is set to begin at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Ramos will be reviewing similar issues to those examined by Judge Amit Mehta. My colleague Tierney Sneed attended and wrote about a hearing Mehta oversaw in the matter last week. I wrote about it further on Tuesday, reviewing how a D.C. federal judge issued a broad ruling that upheld a subpoena to Trump’s accountant, setting the stage for further conflict.

Mehta’s review gives a good sense of what’s to come.

In his Monday opinion, he obliquely addressed the question of timing — and a potential White House effort to run out the clock until 2020 — writing that “plaintiffs could identify no new argument that they would make if given the chance to do so.” Mehta appears to have recognized the legal strategy at play on Trump’s side. The last day to submit new evidence in the case was Saturday; he issued his ruling on Monday. Mehta denied Trump a stay of the subpoenas pending appeal.

Regardless, Trump immediately signaled that he would appeal the decision. The D.C. Circuit will face similar questions of speed that confronted Mehta, leaving judges with a few options on how to move forward over the coming weeks. Some of the highest-profile and most politically important cases in American history have proceeded in a matter of days and weeks; alternatively, the court could let the case lag.

In any case, experts I spoke with expect the D.C. Circuit to rule in Congress’s favor, leaving it up to Trump to appeal the matter to the Supreme Court.

That’s a general sense of what we can expect in the prelude to the Supreme Court’s decision to take up the matter.

Once it reaches the Supreme Court, it will be in the hands of the Republican-appointed majority. They’ll have options: the Court could reject lower rulings without setting precedent, or decline to take the matter entirely, leaving the appellate ruling in place.

At the same time, Trump is expected to continue suing third parties that receive sensitive subpoena requests from the House. There’s not really much that Congress can do in the face of a strategy aimed at delaying, other than continuing to push for quick fights through the courts.

At the hearing today, I’ll be looking to see if Ramos takes a similar tack to Mehta. There’s a slight chance that he rules from the bench, which could be a statement in itself. If not, I’ll be tracking the direction of Ramos’s questioning and what the responses — particularly those from Trump’s team — suggest about their thinking on the case.

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