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Chairman Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) attends a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on "The Proposed FY2021 Budget on Tuesday, March 3, 2020. (Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

In Wake of Supreme Court Ruling, Powerful House Democrat Richard Neal Faulted as 'Biggest Obstacle' to Getting Trump Tax Returns

"We had a window of opportunity, and Neal blew it."

Eoin Higgins

Democratic Congressman Richard Neal, powerful chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, came in for renewed criticism Thursday from a chorus of critics including his challenger in an upcoming primary for failing to move more swiftly to obtain access to President Donald Trump's financial records when given the chance last year.

Alex Morse, the progressive mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts vying to oust Neal in the state's Democratic primary for the 1st District on September 1, was among the first to note Neal's role after a pair decisive Supreme Court rulings on Trump's taxes and other financial disclosures.

"As chair of Ways and Means, Richard Neal should have been leading the fight to get Trump's tax returns," Morse said in a statement. "Instead, he's been the biggest obstacle."

Neal's failure to move aggressively on the matter has long drawn the ire of progressives who believe the congressman should have acted faster to obtain the documents since taking control of the committee in January 2019. That frustration was compounded Thursday after the Supreme Court ruled in Trump vs. Mazars USA that while the president is not above the law with respect to the documents, the return of the case to a lower court will likely drag out possible disclosure beyond the upcoming election.

"What good is Richie Neal's power in Congress if even Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch are doing more work to hold Trump accountable than he is," said Morse. "A real Democrat would have subpoenaed Trump's taxes on Day 1, instead of delaying because he was more focused on cozying up to his Republican colleagues for votes on a bill to help his corporate donors."

The congressman's inaction was noted by constituent Alexander Davis, who tweeted that an attempt in the summer of 2019 to move Neal on the issue did not seem to have had much effect.

"I met Neal in his office with several other constituents in August of 2019," said Davis. "He said he was proceeding as quickly as possible, and that he didn't want the case to get remanded because of a lack of process. But here we are, after he dragged his feet for months, and it's remanded."

The high court's rulings in Trump v. Mazars USA and Trump v. Vance both asserted that the president could not refuse a subpoena to his financial records but the former, which dealt specifically with Congressional access to the records, was sent back to a lower court. 

In a statement on the decision, the Revolving Door Project said that while the lower courts are almost certain to rule in Congress' favor, the release of the documents are likely to come after the election—an outcome which could have been avoided.

"That this decision would come at such a late hour was not inevitable," the group said. "Had Rep. Richard Neal moved expeditiously to request Trump's tax returns on his first day in office as many, including ourselves, pushed him to do, even delays of the kind the Supreme Court has just imposed would have been unlikely to push disclosure until after the election."

The group added that voters should hold the longtime incumbent personally responsible for the delay. 

"Those who are saddened that Trump's strategy of total intransigence has ultimately borne fruit should not forget the central role that Rep. Richard Neal played in assuring its success," the group said.

Morse called Neal's inaction "the biggest obstacle" to the American people getting a look at the president's finances and minced no words in his assessment of his opponent. 

"We had a window of opportunity, and Neal blew it," said Morse. "Now, because of Neal's inaction, we are not going to see Donald Trump’s tax returns before the 2020 election."

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