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Mnuchin, Price nominations stalled after Democrats boycott vote

U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) takes his seat as he arrives to testify before a Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be Health and Human Services secretary on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 24, 2017.. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

January 31, 2017

Democrats on Tuesday refused to attend a scheduled Senate Finance Committee vote to advance the nominations of President Trump’s picks for the treasury and health and human services departments, preventing the votes and forcing Republicans to reschedule.

The committee was supposed to vote on the nominations of Steven Mnuchin for treasury secretary and Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., for secretary of health and human services. But the panel needed at least one Democrat present to conduct the vote, and with none present, angry Republicans were forced to reschedule.

“I’m very disappointed in this type of crap,” committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said to the half-empty hearing room. “I mean, my gosh, there’s no excuse for it.”

“This is the most pathetic thing I’ve seen in my whole time in the U.S. Senate,” said Hatch, who has been in office since 1977. Hatch said that he hoped the committee could meet again later in the day to vote. Democrats know, he said, that the nominations will advance, and are only prolonging the delay. Democrats are acting like children, mad that they’re candidate didn’t win.

Before gaveling out of the session without a vote, Republicans accused Democrats of aiming simply to obstruct President Trump’s agenda by refusing to confirm his cabinet.

An aide to Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the panel, said that Democrats are postponing the vote until “all questions are answered.”

Democrats had already delayed the vote once before on Mnuchin, which was originally scheduled for Monday night. Democrats used a procedural objection to stall the hearing so they could attend a protest of Trump’s executive order on immigration.

Democrats argue that Mnuchin misled them about foreclosures undertaken by the bank he formerly managed, OneWest. While Mnuchin claimed in written answers that the bank didn’t engage in “robo-signing” foreclosure documents, the commitee found evidence from government documents and news reports that it did. As for Price, Democrats have faulted him for his responses to questions about investments he made in health care-related businesses while serving on committees with oversight of the industry, particularly regarding whether he got a discount on stock in an Australian biomedical firm.

“This is about getting answers to questions, plain and simple,” Wyden said in a statement. “Ethics laws are not optional, and nominees do not have a right to treat disclosure like a shell game.”

Speaking outside the committee hearing room, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said that Democrats were delaying the votes until the candidates “clarify what they lied about.”

“I’d hope they’d apologize for that, and then give us the information that we all need for our states,” he said.

There is recent precedent for the Democrats’ maneuver. In 2013, Republicans on the Environment Committee boycotted a vote on Gina McCarthy, President Obama’s nominee for the EPA, on the grounds that she hadn’t adequately responded to their questions.