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Democratic takeover of House could mean higher profile for Titus

WASHINGTON — A Democratic takeover of the House in November would likely mean the elevation of Rep. Dina Titus of Las Vegas to chair of an oversight committee with investigative powers and increased scrutiny of President Donald Trump’s real estate holdings in the nation’s capital.

Titus is one of several Democrats who have raised concern about whether Trump influenced a decision to stop the move of the FBI headquarters, located across the street from the Trump Hotel.

“With scandal after scandal coming out of this administration, the American people deserve answers and I am well positioned to ask those questions,” Titus told the Review-Journal.

A Titus subcommittee chairmanship would be the most dramatic change in the power of the Nevada congressional delegation if Democrats take control of the House in the midterm elections. Democrats need to capture 23 Republican seats to win back the majority of the House.

The state’s most senior Republican House member, Rep. Mark Amodei, would, upon re-election, remain on the powerful Appropriations Committee, which controls federal spending.

Nevada will again have two freshmen lawmakers, regardless of who wins in races to replace Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., who is running for Senate, and Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., who did not seek re-election because of allegations of sexual misconduct, which he has denied.

Titus, whose four terms make her the dean of the Nevada congressional delegation, currently serves as the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on economic development, public buildings and emergency management.

From that position Titus has been an outspoken critic of Trump and has raised questions about the president’s involvement in blocking a move of the FBI headquarters in downtown Washington to a suburban location — thereby preventing redevelopment across the street from the Trump Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Earlier this week, ranking Democrats on the full committee, including Titus, said they received documents and emails from the General Services Administration, which manages all federal buildings, that it received “direction from the White House” involving the proposed move of the FBI headquarters.

Democrats on the committee wrote an Oct. 18 letter to GSA Administrator Emily Murphy raising concerns about the abrupt decision to abandon a long-term plan to move the headquarters.

“As a direct result of President Trump’s clear conflict of interest on this matter, we are now requesting information and documents to determine whether the president is making decisions about the FBI headquarters building based on what is best for the country or what is best for his own financial bottom-line,” committee Democrats wrote in their letter.

The White House denied the president was involved in the decision to halt the move of the FBI headquarters for personal interests.

“The idea that the reason the president wanted the FBI headquarters to remain in its current location is based on anything other than the recommendation of the FBI is simply false,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement to the Review-Journal.

“House Democrats have it all wrong. The president wanted to save the government money and also the FBI leadership did not want to move its headquarters,” the spokesman said.

GSA sent a written statement to media outlets saying the decision was made by the FBI.

The GSA claimed statements that the president was involved in the decision were “inaccurate.”

An independent report by the Office of the Inspector General for the agency found that the president did attend a meeting with the GSA administrator at which the FBI headquarters move was discussed. GSA employees were also instructed not to repeat comments made by the president.

But the inspector general did not conclude that the president was involved in the decision reached.

Democrats said that before Trump became president, he expressed interest in the FBI building and in acquiring property on Pennsylvania Avenue. Once sworn-in as a federal employee, and ineligible to buy federal property, Trump became opposed to the government selling the property.

“Given the background, President Trump should have avoided all interactions or communications relating to the FBI headquarters project to prevent both real and perceived conflicts of interest,” the Democrats wrote to the GSA administrator.

“He should not have played any role in a determination that bears directly on his own financial interests with the Trump Hotel,” Democrats wrote. “The GSA also should have taken steps to wall off the decision from improper influence.”

A House takeover by Democrats would make Titus the most likely member to become chairwoman of the Transportation subcommittee on buildings, and give Democrats authority and subpoena power to investigate leasing arrangements and GSA administration of federal buildings.

“Under this president, Republicans are either unwilling or unable to perform this oversight responsibility,” Titus said.

The current chairman of the subcommittee, Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., has not responded to the letter written by committee Democrats about the FBI property.

Barletta, a former mayor of Hazleton, is not seeking re-election and instead running for Senate, challenging incumbent Democratic Bob Casey.

Trump has campaigned in Pennsylvania for Barletta and congressional Republicans in a state key to Democratic plans to win control of the House and Senate.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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