House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday declared that Congress is a “superior branch” of government, as the clash between congressional Democrats and the Trump administration over closely held documents intensifies.
During an interview with Robert Costa for Washington Post Live, Pelosi, D-Calif., was asked whether Congress is functioning as a coequal branch of government.
“I think we’re a superior branch, quite frankly,” Pelosi said. “We have the power to make the law and the president enforces the law. So we have a big role. We’re closest to the people and we have a big role to play.”
Despite Pelosi’s opinion, the U.S. Constitution, in its first three articles, defines three distinct branches of government: legislative, executive and judicial. The separation of powers also creates a system of checks and balances to ensure all three branches are coequal.
Pelosi's comments, though, come amid a battle between the White House and Congress over sensitive material—including files detailing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and President Trump’s tax returns.
The House Judiciary Committee has subpoenaed several Trump administration officials, including former White House Counsel Don McGahn, who featured prominently in the section of Mueller’s report on obstruction of justice. The White House has blocked McGahn from testifying before the committee and from turning over documents responsive to that subpoena, instead saying the committee should direct future requests for those documents to the White House.
The committee is also locked in a battle with the Justice Department over their demands for not only Attorney General Bill Barr’s testimony but access to the full, unredacted Mueller report and underlying documents. The committee, on Wednesday, is slated to vote on whether to hold Barr in contempt for not handing over those files. The Justice Department is arguing, though, that the president could invoke executive privilege with regard to both Barr and the underlying evidence related to the Mueller report. Some Democrats have even suggested arresting Barr until he complies.
Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is fighting House Ways and Means Committee Democrats over their demands for the president’s personal tax returns. That clash intensified on Tuesday evening, when The New York Times obtained printouts of Trump’s IRS tax transcripts from 1985 to 1994. The documents revealed that the president claimed to have lost $1.17 billion from his real estate businesses for that time period.
On Wednesday, Pelosi was asked if Mnuchin, too, could be arrested in order to force compliance with congressional requests for Trump’s tax returns.
“We do have a jail in the basement of the Congress, but if we were arresting all of the people in the administration, we would have an overcrowded jail situation,” she said. “And I’m not for that.”
Pelosi said that all committee decisions are “so law and precedent-based” and there are several options for committee chairmen going forward.
Pelosi’s latest comments come after she claimed on Tuesday that the president was “goading” Democrats into impeachment.
“I have said that the president wants to goad us into impeachment,” she said again Wednesday. “The point is, that every single day, whether it's obstruction, obstruction, obstruction of having people come to the table with facts, ignoring subpoenas every single day, the president is making a case. He’s becoming self-impeachable.”