Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee are boycotting the confirmation vote on President Donald Trump’s nominees Steve Mnuchin, for Treasury Secretary, and Tom Price, for Secretary of Health and Human Services.
The boycott means that Democrats have delayed the confirmation vote of these two Trump nominees. Democrats don’t have enough votes to block Trump’s nominees — they can be confirmed with a simple majority alone, which Republicans have the numbers for. But the committee can’t vote without a quorum, and that requires at least some Senate Democrats to attend.
Democrats said they were motivated to blocking the vote by reports in recent days that contradict the nominees’ sworn testimony before the committees. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) specifically said that Trump’s nominees had lied to senators in their confirmation hearings.
“We’re not going to this committee today because we want the committee to regroup, get the information, have these two nominees come back in front of the committee, clarify what they lied about — I would hope they’d apologize for that — and then give us the information that we all need for our states,” Brown told reporters.
In recent days, reporters have uncovered evidence that Mnuchin misled Senators in his hearing and in his written responses regarding foreclosures by OneWest Bank while he was the company’s chief executive.
“We need to know what in fact he did with OneWest, what his past is, what his connections are, and we just need to know it before we decide are we voting for him and if he is in fact qualified,” Brown said.
In his hearing, Mnuchin denied that OneWest used “robo-signers,” a practice where employees at financial firms sign foreclosure documents en masse. The Columbus Dispatch reported on Sunday that in an analysis of nearly four dozen foreclosure cases in Ohio, OneWest “frequently used robo-signers.”
Brown also noted that, as treasury secretary, Mnuchin would have immense control over the banking industry, including the future of Dodd-Frank — the banking reform regulation enacted under the Obama administration after the 2008 financial crisis. Trump slammed the regulation as a “disaster” on Monday and vowed to “do a big number” on it.
Senators’ cited lingering questions about Tom Price’s testimony as well. During his hearings before the Finance Committee and the Committee on Health and Human Services, Democrats grilled Price about his investments. While Price served in Congress and crafted legislation that could have massive effects on the biomedical industry, Price repeatedly made lucrative stock investments in the biomedical field.
Price testified to the committee that the discounted stock he bought in Innate Immunotherapeutics was at a price “available to every single individual who was an investor at the time.” The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that contrary to Price’s testimony, the according to the company Price actually got a privileged offer to buy the stock at a discount.
While speaking to reporters on Tuesday about their refusal to attend the vote, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said that they’d be willing to move forward with votes once the record was clear, and reiterated Brown’s point that another hearing is needed.
“That’s why we have to make clear, again this morning, when we get this information, I feel very strongly about talking to the Trump nominees officially, then we’d be very interested in going forward in the committee,” Wyden told reporters.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), however, raised the specter of withdrawal, given the seriousness of the allegations.
“By the way, I just wanted to say that the Obama administration nominees stepped down for much less than what we have in front of us,” said Stabenow.
Three of President Barack Obama’s nominees stepped down during the confirmation process: Bill Richardson, Tom Daschle, and Judd Gregg.
Richardson was nominated to be secretary of the Department of Commerce, and stepped aside due to a federal investigation into a $1 million state consulting contract awarded to one of his donors. Federal prosecutors later dropped the case. Daschle was nominated to be secretary of HHS and stepped down after acknowledging he failed to pay about $140,000 in back taxes. Gregg, a Republican senator also nominated for the Department of Commerce, bowed out due to “irresolvable conflicts” with Obama’s stimulus plan.
Meanwhile, in the committee room, three Republican senators sat alone on the dais and complained the Democrats’ boycott was the result of partisan politics.
“Some of this is just because they don’t like the president,” said Sen. Hatch (R-UT), according to the Washington Post. “I think they ought to stop posturing and acting like idiots,” he added later.
“We did not inflict this kind of obstructionism on President Obama,” said Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), one of the other two senators in the room. Toomey labeled the Democrats’ boycott “a completely unprecedented level of obstruction. This is not what the American people expect of the United States Senate.”
Senate Republicans refused to hold a vote on Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, for nearly 11 months.
Alice Ollstein contributed reporting.This post has been updated with more information.