After two hundred and forty years, one might expect that every last nook and cranny of the Constitution has already been put to the test in defining fashion. But as it turns out there’s at least one Constitutional sentence that’s remained obscure because it’s never been seriously tested by any President. It’s called the Emoluments Clause, and it’s what Democrats in the Senate may be able to use to deliver a body blow Donald Trump before his would-be presidency can even take off.
Everyone who still remembers their high school civics class can probably recall the most famous portion of Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution: “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States.” It’s the part that makes it impossible for the President to declare himself King, or to hand out royal titles as favors. But while we’re all relieved that Trump can’t legally name himself Emperor, it’s the rest of that same sentence that may matter most: “And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”
In other words, as has been laid out by CNBC in a rather convincing legal argument, the Emoluments Clause means that it’s unconstitutional for Donald Trump to be conducting personal financial business with foreign leaders while he’s meeting with them about United States foreign policy.
Donald Trump has already violated this clause at least once in the past week, when he had his daughter Ivanka – whom he has said will run his business interests while he’s in office – sit in on what was supposed to be a meeting of heads of state between himself and the Japanese Prime Minister. This is the kind of unconstitutionally illegal behavior that Congress could impeach Trump for, if the Republican majority had any conscience. But even in spite of that, Senate Democrats have the numbers to stage a filibuster in order to force the Republican majority to deal with the issue. After all, the Constitution says that Trump can only do this if Congress specifically gives him permission.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report