House Democrats are mounting yet another confrontation with the Justice Department that could lead to subpoenas, but this time it’s not about special counsel Robert Mueller’s report — it’s about health care.
Five committee chairman foreshadowed a possible subpoena as soon as May 24 if Attorney General William Barr declines to provide documents related to his decision to stop defending the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act — the health care law signed by President Barack Obama in 2010.
In letters to Barr and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, the chairmen say they’ve been asking since April 8 for documents connected to the decision, as well as testimony from four key officials involved in the effort. The request, they said, sought a response by April 22 but that the reply fell short. Now, they’ve giving the Justice Department two more weeks to meet the committees’ demands. They’re also asking the White House to make budget director Russ Vought available for an interview.
“If we do not receive a response by this date, we will have no choice but to consider alternative means of obtaining compliance,” the lawmakers wrote.
The letters are signed by Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) , Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.).
Nadler’s committee has already voted to hold Barr in contempt for refusing to provide an unredacted version of Mueller’s report to Congress as well as Mueller’s underlying evidence. But the full House has yet to consider the committee’s effort. Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated last week that other committees may want to combine similar contempt proceedings into one overarching floor vote that could come in the next few weeks.
Democrats are also locked in confrontations with the Trump administration over accessing Trump’s tax returns — a request made by Neal’s Ways and Means Committee. The House Intelligence Committee has demanded access to Mueller’s report as well on national security grounds and issued a subpoena for his files last week.
The new effort on health care could become part of the broader strategy, if they continue to accuse the Justice Department of stonewalling by the time the new deadline arrives on May 24. But convincing other lawmakers to wait until June — following a weeklong Memorial Day recess — for a comprehensive contempt vote could be difficult. Rank-and-file Democrats have been clamoring for punitive measures against Barr for weeks for his handling of Mueller’s report.
Unlike the other demands, though, Democratic leaders, though, believe that picking a fight on health care is better politics — and it shows their efforts to confront the Trump administration has policy dimensions, not just Trump-focused investigations.
Democrats have attributed the Trump administration’s efforts to overturn the health care law, known familiarly as Obamacare, to “politically motivated forces” in the White House. The Obama White House took a similar step in 2011 when the Justice Department, at Obama’s urging, stopped defending the Defense of Marriage Act, which barred federal recognition of same-sex marriages — a move social conservatives denounced at the time.
The Department of Justice declined to comment.