In late April 2017, I wrote:
Rep. Ted Yoho gave me a shout out at his Gainesville town hall on April 10th, crediting me with changing his mind about why the President should release his tax returns. It wasn’t just me who convinced him, of course. It was the combined efforts of so many constituents who continued to contact Yoho and his staff over several months.
Since my name was mentioned at the town hall, several people have asked for more detail about what I said and did to change Yoho’s mind. In the hope that a bit more detail may help us all as we push for Trump to release his taxes, here are the actions I took:
1. On February 20, I arrived at Yoho’s office without an appointment, knowing that he was there and was meeting with constituents. I told the front office staff that I didn’t mind waiting, and wanted to be available in case one of his appointments ended early. One of his appointments ended early, so I was able to speak with him for about 15 minutes. I brought printed copies of a BBC article, an NPR article, and an article from Rep Pascrell’s website.
I explained that it seemed to me that Trump reversed course on his support of the One China policy at almost the same time that China finalized a new trademark for Trump’s businesses. Without seeing his tax returns, I felt it would be impossible for the American public to know whether he changed his support for the One China policy based on the national interest or his business interests. Then, I asked him to sign on to Rep. Pascrell’s letter requesting Trump’s tax returns. Yoho seemed genuinely interested, and said that he hadn’t previously understood why Democrats were insisting on seeing Trump’s taxes, but that he could see now that it would be a matter of providing oversight. He said he’d consider signing on to the letter.
2. On February 28, I met with Jessica to ask her why Yoho voted to table Pascrell’s resolution for a floor vote to release Trump’s taxes. My “ask” was general: that Yoho would “vote YES on future resolutions that would begin the process of Congressional review of Trump’s taxes.” I was new to the idea of the “ask”, and forgot to write “reply requested” on my letter. So, I never received a reply to that. I also realized that my ask was too general.
3. On March 14, I met with Jessica with a specific ask: “In keeping with your stated desire to ensure oversight of our elected officials and to reduce possible conflicts of interest, please sign on as a co-sponsor to one or more of these bills: H.R. 540, H.R. 305, H.R. 186.” I also requested a reply. On March 16, Jessica told me that Yoho’s policy staff in his D.C. office thought that HR 305 seemed like a good option, and was something that Yoho could support.
4. As a part of #ResistTrump Tuesdays, I have committed to meeting with Yoho or his staff each week. Each time I met with Jessica after March 16, I followed up with her to see if Yoho had actually become a co-sponsor of HR 305. On April 11, the day after the latest Gainesville town hall, Jessica sent me an email letting me know that Yoho is now officially a co-sponsor of HR 305.
5. Since I had to miss #ResistTrump Tuesdays on April 11 due to my work schedule, I met with Jessica on April 13 to discuss the discharge motion for HR 305. My ask for Yoho, with reply requested: “As a co-sponsor, I know that you’d like to see this bill passed. As of today, the discharge motion only needs 40 more signatures to bring the bill to the floor of the House for a vote. I ask that you please sign the discharge motion for HR 305.”
6. Next steps: In addition to asking Yoho to sign the discharge motion, those interested in the issue of Trump’s tax returns could spread the word to other districts, to see if voters there would ask their Reps to sign the discharge motion. The goal is 218 signatures, and the motion already has 178. If we can get HR 305 to the floor for a vote, then of course, my next ask would be for Yoho to vote YES on HR 305. If it passes, then there’s an identical bill sitting in the Senate…
7. On May 2, 2017, Jessica emailed me with the phone number for James Walsh, Rep. Yoho’s legislative director, recommending that I talk with him for more information about Yoho’s decision on the discharge motion.
8. I spoke with James for about 30 minutes that afternoon and was extremely disappointed to hear the official explanation: Rep. Yoho will not sign the discharge motion to move HR 305 out of committee to a vote on the House floor because he believes in the importance of following the process in place for a bill to become a law – specifically that bills should go through committee before having the full House vote on them.
I asked James how much of a chance he thought HR 305 actually had to get through committee when all of the committees are majority Republican and are chaired by Republicans. He wouldn’t answer that.
I asked him what would happen to HR 305 if it wasn’t taken up by a committee. James explained that, if it wasn’t taken up by committee before the end of 2018, then it would be considered “dead”. A member of the House would have to reintroduce the bill in early 2019 and the committee process would start again from the beginning. He didn’t seem concerned that this will almost certainly be what happens to HR 305 if we do not reach 218 signatures for the discharge motion.
Since Rep. Yoho co-sponsored HR 305, I thought he would work to support passage of the bill. But, Yoho’s refusal to sign the discharge motion shows that HR 305 is not a high priority for him. I asked where HR 305 fell on Yoho’s list of priorities. James wouldn’t answer that question either.
I left the call with the understanding that, when Yoho spoke with me in his office, and when he spoke to his constituents at the town hall on April 10, 2017, he was lying to us. He needed good press during the congressional recess, when town halls were getting so much news coverage. So, he said he supported a bill that would require Trump, and future presidents, to release their tax returns. When it came time to take the next step in the process to move HR 305 from a bill to a law, he refused because he’s not really interested in knowing if Trump is acting in the best interests of our country or the best interests of his businesses. He just wanted the good press, and he was hoping his constituents wouldn’t follow up on HR 305. Let’s make sure we hold him accountable.