- Thomson Reuters
Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday approved President Donald Trump’s nominees for secretary of the Treasury and secretary of health and human services without any votes from Democrats.
Republicans used a parliamentary tactic to change the committee rules, allowing them to pass the nominations onto the full Senate without Democrats in attendance.
Democrats on Tuesday boycotted votes on the two Cabinet picks, Steven Mnuchin for Treasury and Tom Price for HHS, by not attending. One Democrat had to be in attendance for the vote to take place.
After the rule change, Mnuchin and Price each passed with 14 votes.
“Long story short, we took some unprecedented actions today due to the unprecedented obstruction on the part of our colleagues,” said Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the chair of the committee.
Hatch also attacked Sen. Ron Wyden, the highest-ranking Democrat on the committee, for failing to cooperate after passing several bipartisan bills. Hatch said Wyden would now “jump off any cliff” that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told him to.
Hatch later told reporters that Democrats on the committee “followed a cheap political ploy, and they should be ashamed.”
None of the 12 Democrats on the committee was in attendance on Wednesday.
Republicans similarly boycotted the approval of Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, in 2013, but Hatch said a boycott of this nature had not happened in the finance committee specifically.
Democrats said that before they could vote, they had more questions for Price and Mnuchin about the nominees’ business and investment practices.
During their hearings, both Mnuchin and Price faced questions from lawmakers about their previous business dealings.
Price had numerous investments in healthcare-related stocks while he was drafting legislation with the potential to influence the healthcare sector. Additionally, an investment in an Australian pharmaceutical company was called into question as a possible violation of the Stock Act, which governs investments of members of Congress.
Price told the committee that the discounted shares in the company, Innate Immunotherapeutics, were available to all investors. A Wall Street Journal report, however, found that his investment was made through a private offering available to fewer than 20 American investors. It was available to all investors in Australian and New Zealand.
Mnuchin was attacked for failing to disclose nearly $100 million in assets – mostly real-estate holdings – and directorships at offshore entities related to his hedge fund, Dune Capital Management. Additionally, Democrats called out foreclosure activities by OneWest Bank, a mortgage lender owned by a group led by Mnuchin.
Mnuchin said during testimony that OneWest had not used so-called robosigning for foreclosure documents, but an investigation by The Columbus Dispatch showed that such automation was used for at least some loans in Ohio.
Hatch said Democrats were simply trying to use distractions to block two qualified nominees. He said the delay tactics forced the Republican-controlled committee’s hand.
Hatch also pointed to the finance committee’s approval in 2009 of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who at the time had an outstanding tax bill of about $40,000, as an example of Republicans’ willingness to compromise on appointments. Geithner passed with an 18-5 vote.