USA Politics First Look

Seeking transparency, Congressional Democrats introduce 'Mar-a-Lago' act

Democrats in the House and Senate recently introduced legislation that would require President Trump's administration to publish visitor logs.

The Mar-a-Lago resort owned by President Donald Trump in Palm Beach, Fla., in November 2016.
Lynne Sladky/AP/File
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On Friday, Democrats in the House and Senate introduced legislation that would require President Trump and his administration to publish logs detailing the names of all visitors to both the White House as well as “any other location at which the President or the Vice President regularly conducts official business.”

The twin bills, not-so-subtly titled the “Making Access Records Available to Lead Government Openness Act”, or the acronym “Mar-a-Lago” are named after the President’s beachside resort that he has nicknamed the “Winter White House” due to his frequent visits in the first several months of his presidency.

Mar-a-Lago, the palatial 128-room house in Palm Beach, Fla., was initially constructed by heiress and socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post with the express intention of becoming a winter presidential retreat.

Following her death, Ms. Post’s estate bequeathed the property to the US government, however less than a decade later the government returned Mar-a-Lago to the post foundation, citing enormous maintenance and operating costs.

President Trump acquired the property years later and turned the establishment into a private club.

Since his inauguration on January 20th, the president has visited Mar-a-Lago five times, including once with the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe; a visit that became highly publicized after it was revealed President Trump and Prime Minister Abe reviewed classified documents in full view of ordinary guests at the Palm Beach resort.

Photos of the event, captured by a member dining nearby, show President Trump and his aides examining information detailing a recent North Korean missile launch, an event that typically would be conducted in a private, secure setting.

Additionally, Axios reported earlier this month that President Trump will host Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago for a two-day summit in April.

In addition to risking security breaches, President Trump’s frequent visits to South Florida have proven controversial, partially for the considerable cost — based off 2013 information, each visit to Mar-a-Lago costs taxpayers about $3 million – also because of his past criticism of President Obama’s trips out of Washington.

While formal state visits are well-publicized, the recent legislation introduced by Congressional Democrats seeks to gain a better understanding of who else may be visiting the President either in Washington or on his frequent weekend visits to his south Florida club.

During previous administrations, visitor logs were frequently publicized. Following Obama’s inauguration the visitor access records section of whitehouse.gov showed a “this page is being updated” messagee, in 2009 the administration was sued by a pro-transparency organization which demanded that the White House create and maintain logs of all visitors. For the following seven years, the Obama White House consistently provided such logs however that practice has since ceased since President Trump assumed office.

"By refusing to release the White House visitor logs, President Trump is only validating the rampant concerns about who may be pulling the levers in his administration," said Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, in a statement quoted by CNBC

"The president should end his administration's disturbing pattern of stonewalling information and immediately reinstate the previous administration's policy of publishing White House visitor logs,” he continued, “and given President Trump's unprecedented decision to conduct official business at his private business properties, the Trump administration has an obligation to make public the visitor lists at places like Mar-a-Lago and Trump Tower.”

According to NBC, Senators had previously expressed similar concerns over a lack of transparency on what individuals and groups might be attempting to purchase access to President Trump through memberships at the Mar-a-Lago club, which costs $200,000.

"The American people need to know who has access to the White House if we're going to 'drain the swamp'. So far, all we've seen from the President is murk," NBC quoted Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s statement. "His Administration has stonewalled congressional requests for information about his advisors and appointees' conflicts of interest.”

While the legislation may carry some popularity among transparency proponents, it would have to pass through the Republican-majority Congress, ultimately making enacting the bill unlikely.

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