When nearly 200 Democratic members of Congress sued President Donald Trump this week, North Shore residents could see one familiar name on the complaint: Rep. Kathleen Rice of Garden City.
But Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), the area’s other congressional representative, was not among those bringing the federal lawsuit alleging that Trump violated the U.S. Constitution’s emoluments clause by taking payments from foreign governments through his businesses.
The suit, filed Wednesday in a Washington, D.C. federal court, was the latest legal challenge to Trump, a wealthy real estate developer with properties and business dealings across the world. The attorneys general for Maryland and the District of Columbia filed a similar suit Monday.
Asked about her decision to join the suit, Rice said in a statement that hundreds of her constituents have expressed concerns to her office about the president’s potential conflicts of interest.
“This lawsuit has nothing to do with partisanship or politics – it has to do with the fact that people in our district and every district in America have a right to know that their President is acting solely in their interests,” Rice said. “Any question to the contrary is damaging to our democracy and must be answered in a decisive and transparent way.”
Rice is among 166 Democratic representatives and 30 U.S. senators arguing in the lawsuit that Trump failed to get permission from Congress to accept money from foreign governments through his businesses, according to a copy of the complaint published by CNN.
Trump has claimed that those payments are not prohibited by the emoluments clause, which say “No Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them [the United States], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”
A spokesman for Rice said she would have joined a similar lawsuit if a Democratic president was making the same arguments about his or her business relationships with foreign governments.
“Rep. Rice believes Congress has a Constitutional responsibility to cast a vote on this, and the denial of that voting opportunity leaves them with no choice but to take this to the courts,” the spokesman, Coleman Lamb, said in an email.
Suozzi is among 27 Democrats in the House of Representatives who did not join the suit. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, is also not a plaintiff, but Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is.
Asked about his decision to stay out of the legal battle, Suozzi said he is “very concerned about the President’s possible violations of the emoluments clause and have spoken about it since day one.
“I am simply not prepared to join a lawsuit at this phase and am working hard to reach across the aisle to try and solve problems,” he said in a statement.
Their varying stances on the lawsuit reflect the different tacks Suozzi and Rice have taken on the Trump administration at a time when Democrats are fighting a president they see as anathema to their values, while also addressing the party’s future following Hillary Clinton’s loss in last year’s presidential election.
Rice, representing the 4th Congressional District in southwest Nassau County, has become a vocal critic of Trump and congressional Republicans, attacking their policies in public statements and pledging to fight them on her constituents’ behalf.
But Suozzi has been more reserved. While occasionally taking shots at Trump and Republicans, he has focused primarily on efforts to build bipartisan relationships in Congress and solve local problems in his 3rd Congressional District, stretching across the North Shore.
For instance, when Trump fired James Comey, the former FBI director who was heading an investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia, Suozzi, who ran for Congress last year partly on his anti-corruption credentials, issued a one-sentence statement calling for the immediate appointment of a special prosecutor to oversee that investigation.
Rice took to Twitter to call Comey’s firing a “crisis” and said anyone who resisted naming a special prosecutor and creating an independent commission for the investigation would be “complicit.”
Rice also issued a statement last month condemning news reports that Trump revealed highly classified intelligence to Russian diplomats. Suozzi did not issue any statement on the matter.
Jay Jacobs, the Nassau County Democratic chairman, said he had not discussed the congressional lawsuit with Rice or Suozzi and did not want to speculate on their motivations. But he said their different stances on it may have to do with the politics of their respective districts.
“They’ve got to appeal to their base and they’ve got to appeal to their broader constituency,” Jacobs said.