Texas Representative Al Green has introduced a bill to prevent presidents from pardoning themselves.
The bill aims to amend the Constitution to say that “the President shall have no power to grant to himself a reprieve or pardon for an offense against the United States.’’ Green, a Houston Democrat, proposed the law with support from two Democratic colleagues: Brad Sherman of California and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts.
“Someday some unprincipled President might attempt to self-pardon,” Green said in a news release. He argued that the law, as it stands, “would lawfully allow the President to commit the most egregious acts with impunity.”
While the language might seem generic, the context of the bill, along with the people behind it, makes it clear that the law is aimed at President Trump.
The investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election continues to heat up, after The New York Times reported earlier this month that Donald Trump Jr. sought information from a Russian agent that might be damaging to Hillary Clinton, his father's rival for the presidency. And Trump Sr. has appeared to grow increasingly restless about the probes of himself and his family, issuing a stark rebuke of his own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, an early Trump ally, over Sessions’s recusal from the inquiry.
Meanwhile, Green has emerged as one of Trump’s sharpest critics in Congress. In June, after Trump fired FBI director James Comey, Green submitted articles of impeachment against the president, prompting some Trump supporters to send him death threats.
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“Obstruction of justice by the President is the problem,” Green said at the time. “Impeachment by Congress is the solution.” Sherman, the California Democrat supporting Green’s latest efforts to end presidential self-pardons, came out in favor of that bill. So did Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, from Houston.
For now, Green’s pushes are mostly for show. Republicans retain majorities in the Senate and the House of Representatives, making any law that targets Trump largely untenable. That’s especially true for this bill. As a Constitutional amendment, it would require either a constitutional convention or a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress. The Constitution has been amended only 16 times since the 18th century, most recently in 1992.
Green, who was unavailable for comment, seems to recognize this fact. “The goal is not to pass the amendment now,” the news release says, “but rather to have it filed as a means for Congress to act when needed. We pray that the need never occurs.”
And maybe it never will. Although state governors have pardoned themselves, no president ever has. Richard Nixon, the only president ever to be forced out of office under threat of impeachment and conviction by Congress, was pardoned by his former vice president, Gerald Ford.