Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee stalled votes on the nominations of two Donald Trump cabinet nominees on Monday by refusing to attend the meeting, denying Republicans a quorum.
According to the Democrats, they boycotted the vote because both Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., chosen for health and human services secretary, and Steven Mnuchin, tapped for treasury secretary, lied to the committee during their testimony.
Mr. Mnuchin told me his bank didn't engage in robo-signing, a predatory practice, I found the docs showing he did.
— Senator Bob Casey (@SenBobCasey) January 31, 2017
At least one member of each party must be present at Senate Finance Committee meetings for any business to take place.
“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 would apologize for that — and then give us the information that we all need for our states,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, outside the committee room.
Republican Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, was forced to gavel out the meeting, delaying the votes indefinitely. He lamented the incident as “one of the most alarming things I’ve seen in my 40 years in the U.S. Senate,” calling the Democrats “idiots” for having the temerity to put on hold a presidential appointment. “I’ve never seen anything quite like this.”
In fact, Republicans boycotted a 2013 committee vote on the nomination of Gina McCarthy to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, denying Democrats a quorum. Like Democrats today, Republicans were seeking more information from McCarthy. One of those Republicans was Jeff Sessions, currently nominated for attorney general. McCarthy eventually got confirmed.
In addition, Republicans withheld even a hearing on the nomination of Merrick Garland to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court for nearly a year. Donald Trump plans to announce his choice to fill the Scalia vacancy Tuesday night.
Democrats have a good argument that both nominees lied to the committee.
Mnuchin has repeatedly lied about OneWest Bank, which he ran from 2009 to 2015, and its history of robo-signing. On two occasions in written responses, Mnuchin has claimed that OneWest never engaged in robo-signing, despite considerable evidence to the contrary. Robo-signing is a tactic whereby low-level employees perjure themselves by signing foreclosure documents claiming to verify loan information, without ever reviewing the facts. An employee of OneWest admitted to robo-signing in a 2009 deposition, and the Columbus Dispatch found dozens of robo-signed OneWest documents in Ohio public records.
Price, the HHS nominee, received a sweetheart deal from Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian biomedical company, to purchase discounted stock shares in a private placement. He told the Senate Finance Committee that the deal was open to all investors in the company, but the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that the deal was only available by invitation to fewer than 20 people in the U.S.
Price received the invitation from a fellow member of Congress, Chris Collins, R-N.Y., who sits on the board of Innate. When Innate’s CEO pushed back on the Wall Street Journal story to a CNN reporter, Collins — accidentially hitting “reply all” — cheered on the CEO for defending Price.
The Innate private placement has so far paid off, with the stock soaring after Price secured legislation that would help push through one of their multiple sclerosis drugs. But the discrepancy between Price’s comments to the committee and published reports, along with his other questionable trades of medical stocks, prompted the Democratic boycott.
Hatch, the committee chairman, did not schedule a vote for Mnuchin and Price, nor did he ask them to return to the committee to answer more questions from Democrats. “Maybe we gotta change the rules so we don’t need” Democrats to for a vote, Hatch muttered.
Kurt Walters, campaign director for Demand Progress, one of several progressive groups mobilizing around Trump cabinet picks, praised the action by Democrats. “Lying to the Senate is unacceptable and disqualifying for any nominee,” Walters said.