Senate Republicans just cheated Democrats out of a vote on controversial appointees

Democrats boycotted, so Republicans simply changed the rules to proceed without them.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Alex Brandon
CREDIT: AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Senate Republicans just took the country another step away from democracy.

On Wednesday, Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee forced through the confirmations of Tom Price for Secretary of Health and Human Services and Steve Mnuchin for Secretary of Treasury despite a Democratic boycott of the hearings for the controversial nominees. They did so by simply changing the rules so as to no longer require any Democrats to be present to achieve quorum.

Democrats launched their boycott Tuesday because they felt there were too many unanswered questions about the two nominees’ possible ethics violations. They refused to participate in the process if there wouldn’t be more time for vetting. When not a single Democrat showed up on Tuesday, the vote could not proceed, because of a rule requiring at least one member from the minority party be present.

Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) defended the decision to proceed without the Democrats on Wednesday. “They, on their own accord, refused to participate in the exercise,” he explained. “They have nobody to blame but themselves.” Hatch had previously described the Democrats as “acting like idiots” for their boycott the day before. Both nominees were approved 14–0.

But the reason the Democrats took such steps is because there is significant evidence that both nominees lied to the committee. For example, Mnuchin has even acknowledged that his answers were not “true, accurate, and complete,” as was apparent from his need to revise his initial disclosure questionnaire twice because of entities he “inadvertently missed.” He also testified that OneWest Bank never used “robo-signers,” even though it frequently did.

And there were already questions about whether he was qualified to serve in the position in the first place. Mnuchin’s bank foreclosed on tens of thousands of people while accepting $1 billion in loan forgiveness from the FDIC, and may have even broken the law by backdating documents to rush foreclosures.

Price likewise faces multiple allegations of insider trading and scandal. Asked during the hearings about being invited to buy discounted stock in a biomedical company called Innate Immunotherapeutics, Price insisted he bought it at a price “available to every single individual who was an investor at the time.” This week, the company outed Price as lying, confirming that he did buy the shares at a privileged 12-percent discount. Its shares have tripled since then.

And Price refused to say if he even thought health care was a right for all people.

These are the candidates Republicans upended the Democratic process to advance. This declaration of partisan warfare does not bode well for confirming President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, a particularly conservative pick. Unlike the cabinet appointments, Senate Republicans need the support of eight Democrats to break a filibuster on a Supreme Court nominee, and after they blocked President Obama’s pick, Merrick Garland, all last year, the Democrats have no reason whatsoever to cave.

Of course, Republicans could always break precedent again and make another change to the rules — i.e. the nuclear option.