Public Trust in Government is Low. A Congressman Wants to Fix That With More White House Transparency.
Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., reintroduced bills regarding visitor logs and preservation of presidential records.
A Democratic congressman is hoping to restore the public’s trust in the federal government with proposed legislation that would make the White House more transparent.
The Pew Research Center said over the summer that low public trust in the federal government has lasted for nearly two decades. “Repairing trust in the executive branch can begin with enhanced transparency and accountability,” said Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., founder of the Congressional Transparency Caucus, upon reintroduction of two bills last week. “My legislation will help meet that need.”
One bill would require every presidential administration to publicly release visitors logs from the White House or any locations where the president and vice president regularly do official business, with certain exceptions such as for national security purposes. Quigley first introduced a version of this bill in 2017 (under a different name), after the Trump administration reversed the policy instituted under President Obama to release White House visitor logs.
While the Biden administration brought back the Obama-era visitor log policy, “its permanence is up to the discretion of each administration,” said a recent press release from Quigley’s office. “Signing this policy into law would codify this code of conduct, making it mandatory for all administrations going forward.”
During the Trump administration, there were legal battles initiated by outside government oversight groups to obtain visitor logs from the “Southern White House” at Mar-a-Lago, where former President Trump spent a considerable amount of time.
The Clinton and George W. Bush administrations both fought off lawsuits to release visitor logs and The Washington Post reported in January that “while the Obama administration was initially praised for its move to greater transparency, watchdog groups and media organizations quickly noted its voluntary system was easily manipulated to hide high-profile or controversial guests.” Also, “a 2013 federal appeals court ruling found that White House visitor logs are shielded under presidential executive privilege. The judge who wrote the unanimous court ruling, Merrick Garland, is now Biden’s attorney general,” the Post noted.
More recently, in the winter, after it was revealed that classified documents were found in President Biden’s Delaware home and former office, a top House Republican demanded the release of visitor logs for the house, but the White House and Secret Service said they don’t maintain such records. Ian Sams, spokesman for the White House Counsel’s Office, told NBC News that “like every president across decades of modern history, his personal residence is personal,” but noted that the Biden White House brought back the tradition of publishing White House visitor logs after the Trump White House ended the practice.
“Our belief is that if President Biden is regularly conducting official business in Delaware, this requirement would extend to that home,” according to an official in Quigley's office, noting that this bill is “separate and distinct from our legislation on presidential records.”
The other bill would “ensure presidential records are preserved, duly created when non-official electronic messaging accounts are used, and made available to the public and the next administration in a timely fashion to advance national security and accountability, and for other purposes,” according to the bill’s text.
Quigley, along with Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., first introduced this bill in December 2020 following Trump’s refusal to concede the presidential election to Biden and reports that Trump was destroying presidential records.
Records management has increasingly become a hot-button issue following the FBI’s seizure of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago over the summer; the discovery of classified documents in Biden’s Delaware house and former office; and classified documents found at former Vice President Mike Pence’s house. Special counsels are investigating the situations for the former and current presidents.
“We believe our legislation would have helped avoid some of the issues that led to classified documents ending up at various official’s homes,” the staff member in Quigley's office said. “The legislation specifically creates a new requirement for the [archivist of the United States] to submit a report to Congress every two years on how presidential records are being managed.”
The staffer continued: “Poor management significantly contributed to mishandling by Biden and Pence so increased oversight will help avoid incidents like these in the future.” The act would also “require the archivist to work with the Federal Transition Coordinator to oversee the transition of presidential records during a change in administration. The Biden, Trump, and Pence records would therefore have been held to greater oversight during the 30 days following the 2016 and 2020 elections, possibly preventing some of the mishandling we saw later on.”
In a related matter, Quigley and Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Ill., both members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, announced in January they were working on bipartisan legislation to address the mishandling of classified documents. The official said they expect to introduce the legislation in the next few weeks.