In the last two months, Congressional Democrats have seen their collusion hopes go up in flames, and their dreams of impeachment more or less squelched by Democratic party leaders.

In spite of that, Democrats have what they believe is a viable backup plan they think will embarrass President Trump going into the 2020 elections: Increasing the pressure on him to release his tax returns.

To force the issue, Democratic party legislators in over half a dozen states want laws in place to keep him off of general election ballots in their respective states if he refuses to do so, per Axios (bolded emphasis theirs):

Driving the news: Illinois’ state senate recently passed a bill that would require people running for president or vice president to disclose their tax returns from the past five years.

The big picture: Illinois is not alone. Per the National Conference of State Legislatures

“As of February 20, 2017 legislators in 18 states (Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia) have introduced bills” to require “future presidential candidates to disclose income tax returns in order to be placed on the general election ballot.”

The bottom line: None of these bills have been signed into law (yet). But it seems possible — even likely — that at least one blue state might put it in place. And that potential scenario is giving Trump allies pause.

Presidential candidates are not required by law to release their tax returns to the public, and any state-level attempts at requiring them to would most definitely lead to court challenges, says the NCSL’s Dylan Lynch:

For many, the question is: Can states set this requirement, constitutionally speaking? Although states have authority to administer presidential elections, Article II of the U.S. Constitution outlines the qualifications for the presidency: The candidate must be a natural-born citizen, at least 35 years old and have been a resident within the U.S. for the past 14 years. The possible addition of a new criteria established by a state would surely face a court battle.

Former assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew McCarthy backed that up, saying these proposed laws were toothless:

While states do run elections, legal experts said they can’t add requirements to be president.

“The Constitution has spoken to that,” said Andrew McCarthy of the National Review Institute and a Fox News contributor. “And if you want to change the qualifications for presidency, including if you want to add a qualification that says you have to release your tax returns, you need to amend the Constitution.”

Interestingly enough, in 2017 when California’s Democratic governor Jerry Brown had the chance to sign such legislation into law, he vetoed it:

Brown said in a letter to lawmakers that he worried the proposed law might not be constitutional and that it could have led to other litmus tests for candidates.

“Today we require tax returns, but what would be next?” Brown wrote. “Five years of health records? A certified birth certificate? High school report cards? And will these requirements vary depending on which political party is in power?”

Trump has steadfastly refused to release his tax returns, stating that he was under audit. It was a position he took as a candidate in 2016 and he has maintained it as president:

Trump broke with 40 years of presidential-campaign precedent when he refused to release his tax returns as a candidate. He said he was under audit and that he would consider releasing them when the audits were complete. No law prevents the release of tax returns that are under audit.

Earlier Tuesday, a White House spokesman said Trump is still “not inclined” to hand over the paperwork despite the deadline.

“The president is pretty clear. Once he’s out of audit, he will think about doing it. He’s not inclined to do so at this time,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley told Fox News.

Trump has also said numerous times in response to repeated requests for his tax returns that ultimately his supporters don’t care about them, and that it’s only the media and Democrats who do. He may be right, considering he was elected in spite of his refusal to release them in 2016.

The battle over this issue will wage on in the coming months as Democrats try to build momentum going into the 2020 elections. But Trump has successfully managed to keep them at bay on his tax returns so far, and state-level efforts to force the issue will ultimately fail because they are unconstitutional, so the likelihood of him being kept off of any ballots is slim to none.

— Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym “Sister Toldjah” and can be reached via Twitter. —

 
 
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