WASHINGTON ― House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) declined to express an opinion Tuesday about whether President-elect Donald Trump’s talks with world leaders about his business interests violate the Constitution.
But McCarthy did have some advice for Democrats, telling reporters they should back off calls for Congress to investigate how Trump and his transition team are separating the president-elect’s business interests from the demands of the nation.
Trump has reportedly spoken with a number of foreign leaders about various projects around the world. A part of the Constitution known as the Emoluments Clause bars presidents from getting anything of value from a foreign government unless Congress approves.
Asked if that section of the nation’s founding document raised any concerns for him regarding Trump, McCarthy sidestepped.
“I think it’s a great question for Donald McGahn, who’s going to be the legal counsel,” McCarthy told reporters, referring to the lawyer Trump has named as White House counsel.
When asked whether it’s actually Congress’ responsibility to ensure the executive is following the rules, McCarthy countered with a question of his own about whether Trump is really breaking the rules.
“I think the Constitution is an issue,” he said. “But are you telling me there’s something that meets the criteria, currently, in the actions of what he’s doing?”
When it was pointed out that Trump has spoken about his business concerns with foreign leaders, and that foreign diplomats have suggested they’d stay in Trump hotels to curry favor, McCarthy professed ignorance.
“Is someone saying that’s happened?” McCarthy said. “Can [diplomats] not stay at the hotel?”
Ultimately, McCarthy counseled reporters and Democrats who have asked for oversight to give Trump time.
“I take anything in the Constitution very seriously. I don’t want to leave any misinterpretation to you,” McCarthy said. “But I’m just saying, he hasn’t been sworn in yet.”
“He has a very big business,” the congressman went on. “I assume, especially when we have people who come to Congress and they have a business — it takes them a while, and what Ethics Committee does, it gives them a chance to set it up in the proper way. And that may mean making different changes. So I don’t think we expected him the first day to be able to change his entire business structure, but I think there will be a process.”
McCarthy also did not want to say he’d definitely hold hearings about how Trump is handling potential conflicts once he’s sworn in and the Trump administration is up and running.
“I never think in Congress that you just pick, to go in the instance that you’re going after someone, and there’s not something there,” McCarthy said.
“Why don’t you give him a opportunity, when he’s just now appointed a legal counsel, to go through, put it in order and display that to the American people of what the structure is before we’re saying Trump needs to be investigated?” he asked.
And, likely to the amazement of Democrats who have complained about endless probes into Hillary Clinton’s behavior, McCarthy argued that it’s time to back off on investigations.
“I think for too long, some of these rules have been used that way, and I think it’s been a bad thing, and it’s harmed the ability for people all to work together,” McCarthy said. “Let’s take a deep breath. We’re going into a new year, we’ve got big problems before us.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also declined to assert a congressional role at this stage.
“I’m sure the transition team is taking a look at all of those issues as we move towards Jan. 20,” he said Tuesday.
When pressed on what Trump should do to avoid conflicts, McConnell added: “I don’t have any advice to offer him today. I know they are considering the issue that you raise, and we’ll hear what they recommend as we move towards Inauguration Day.”
This article has been updated to include McConnell’s comments.