A proposal to separate electoral politics from federal real estate

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Some members of Congress believe former President Donald Trump had a conflict of interest. As a private citizen, Trump had rented the former Post Office building from the General Services Administration. It has become a Trump hotel. Now, Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) has introduced a bill that would require the GSA to terminate any lease with a federal elected official or the head of an executive agency. She spoke with the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Tom Temin: Tell us what your bill would require General Services Administration?

Dina Titus: Thank you for inviting me. Just a bit of background, the GSA owns and oversees approximately 377 million square feet of space in 9,600 public buildings. On top of that they do something they call leasing. Usually it’s a minor project like a Starbucks in a federal office building. But along with the old post office, they rented out the whole building, did a big makeover, and turned it into the Trump Hotel. Some of us felt that was a violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution. Because it says you’re not supposed to take things from foreign entities or other levels of government. Trump was both tenant and landlord. And so there was clearly a conflict of interest. But when we tried to get information about the books, who were staying there, how much they paid, the GSA just shut us down. So it’s not supposed to be a partisan political agency, it’s just supposed to be a neutral regulatory oversight agency. So this bill will make that happen.

Tom Temin: And what about future leases? In other words, would this terminate the leases, but would it also prevent this type of rental in the future?

Dina Titus: No not necessarily. But it will provide greater congressional oversight and compel the GSA to present those leases to Congress. Moreover, what it will prohibit is any type of foreign interest engaged in these leases.

Tom Temin: Now, in the case of the Trump Hotel, I remember when that lease was signed, it was a 100-year lease with the Trump Organization. It was six, seven or eight years before Donald Trump became President Trump. And so I think there’s a provision that upon becoming president, that lease would end.

Dina Titus: That’s right, he will ban any kind of leases with the president, vice president, congressman, or head of an executive agency. I believe this is already supported in the emoluments clause. But that’s something the courts just wouldn’t really interpret in several cases that have been brought. So it says so explicitly.

Tom Temin: To the right. Do you know of any other cases where this has happened?

Dina Titus: Not really, no one in the government kept such a lease. And most things are put on blind trust. And it was just run or owned or operated by part of the family. And so it was obviously a conflict of interest. Lobbyists were staying there. Foreign dignitaries were staying there. The Republican Party held events there. So obviously there was an attempt to curry favor with the president by pumping money into his operation.

Tom Temin: Well, maybe it was because it had the best bacon you could find in Washington. I do not know.

Dina Titus: I do not know either. I have never eaten there.

Tom Temin: We speak with Democrat Dina Titus, who represents Nevada’s First District. And do you have any other support for this bill, even from Republicans by any chance?

Dina Titus: Well, we’ll see if any Republicans buy into it. This is a subject that was discussed at length in the subcommittee that I chair, which is part of infrastructure and transportation. The president, Mr. DeFazio, signed this bill with me. And he was chasing this problem long before I got here. And so we went through about 24,000 pages of documents to report on that. So it’s not a night flight. It took a long time to do and based on lots of facts and figures.

Tom Temin: Sure. Something in the Senate at this point?

Dina Titus: No. The oversight committee, in addition to my committee, has looked into the matter. So I’m sure we’ll get the support of the members of this committee, at least on the Democratic side.

Tom Temin: Very well. I want us to switch gears if you’ll let me while we have you for a moment. You asked Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to stop the roundups of mustangs. And apparently there have been serious problems with burros and mustangs under the control of the Bureau of Land Management, including in Nevada.

Dina Titus: Oh, yes, especially in Nevada. We have the wildest horses in every state in the country. And they are an iconic symbol of the Wild West. No need to be Western to appreciate them. People who support my efforts come from all over the world, in fact, not just all over the country because there are such majestic creatures. And the BLM has done a terrible job of trying to manage these herds, and they need to be managed because if they keep breeding they will starve or they will die of thirst because there just isn’t any not many resources on the public domain. Now cowboys hate them, or ranchers because they want their cows to fetch water and grass on public land and see horses as a pest. But the public is certainly supportive.

Now, there are a few problem areas. One is the roundups themselves, they use helicopters. There are about three companies that have had all the helicopter contracts, and they are making a lot of money that comes directly out of taxpayers’ pockets. Besides, it’s just a cruel process, they run over the horses and scare them to death. There was a recent incident on national television about a little colt they knocked down, it paralyzed him and they had to put him down. So that’s a problem. Now the third issue that has arisen is that they put all of these horses in very close, small, confined spaces once they’ve rounded them up. They therefore catch diseases that are transmitted quickly from one to the other. And we saw quite recently about 150 Horses die in several paddocks because of respiratory ailments. So I would like to look into that. I wrote to the secretary to stop the raids until they know how to do them better and how to better manage the horses. Oh, let me add a fourth problem that shows you how serious this is. They had an adoption program at BLM. They gave you $1,000 to take the horse, and then they didn’t follow through. And many people received the money and then sold the horse to consume it on the other side of the border. It’s just a nightmare. So we need better management. And I think we need to focus on birth control rather than just putting these horses in these paddocks.

Tom Temin: Yeah, the National Park Service manages some bison herds out west. And they do regular culling, as you say, to avoid the same problem of overpopulation and starvation and so on. And they can become harmful if you let them. Maybe there is something from the National Park Service to work with the Bureau of Land Management on how to manage the herds.

Dina Titus: It’s a good idea. I’m going to contact them because the BLM has certainly done a terrible job and they’re in the pocket of the breeders it seems like they don’t seem to want to help in this case you know only a very small percentage of the money we give to BLM for management was used for birth control. And listen to this interesting story. They used drones for the roundups because a horse will follow a drone so you don’t have to chase the horse. You don’t have to scare him to death. But you can leave it somewhere you want it to go. Wouldn’t that be more human? Plus, I say hire more cowboys. They know how to herd horses. So this is a jobs bill, but some of these cowboys are working and getting out of the helicopter.

Tom Temin: Yeah, maybe hire some of those casino workers and retrain them as roundups.

Dina Titus: Well, everyone is talking about workforce development. This may be something to consider.

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