USA First Look

Senate confirms former Goldman Sachs banker Steven Mnuchin as Treasury secretary

The GOP-controlled Senate easily confirmed Steven Mnuchin as Treasury secretary, with those opposed taking issue with his part in the Wall Street crisis.

Steve Mnuchin waits to be sworn in as Treasury secretary in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Monday.
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Former banker Steven Mnuchin was sworn in as Treasury secretary on Monday, following a Senate vote deeply divided along party lines. 

The Senate voted to confirm Mr. Mnuchin 53 to 47, with all but one Democrat voting against the former Goldman Sachs executive. Later that night, at the White House swearing-in ceremony, President Trump vowed that Mnuchin would be a "great champion" for Americans. 

"He will fight for middle-class tax reductions, financial reforms that open up lending and create millions of new jobs, and fiercely defend the American tax dollar and your financial security," Mr. Trump said in the Oval Office. "And he will also defend our manufacturing jobs from those who cheat and steal and rob us blind."

Republican supporters of Mnuchin, who served as finance chairman for Trump's presidential campaign, say his long career in finance shows he has the strong management and decisionmaking skills necessary to run the department. But opponents of Mnuchin argue that his private-sector experience is precisely what makes him unfit to serve as Treasury secretary. The appointment represents a "broken promise" by Trump to hold big banks accountable, said Democratic leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) of New York. 

The number of millionaires and billionaires nominated to the president's cabinet has resulted in accusations from some critics that Trump is going back on his campaign promises to serve working class Americans, as The Christian Science Monitor reported in December: 

While it is not unusual for presidents to fill cabinet positions with members of the 1 percent, critics point out that this runs counter to Mr. Trump’s narrative during the campaign, when he repeatedly attacked Wall Street and promised to deliver changes that will stop elites from gaining at the expense of average workers.

But the selections do fit another image Trump has championed: As experienced business people and political outsiders, he might argue, they know how to navigate and take advantage of the system – making them the best candidates to stop the exploitation.

In the Trump administration, "there aren’t many people who have experience doing the kinds of jobs that most Americans go to every day," Nicholas Carnes, a professor at Duke University, told the Monitor. "The advice that he’s going to be getting – policies are probably going to be heavily slanted in the interests of more wealthy groups."

Critics of Mnuchin say his business record running OneWest bank, which foreclosed on families during the financial crisis, demonstrates that his actions as Treasury secretary won't be driven by concern for the best interests of the American people. 

"I simply cannot forgive somebody who took a look at that banking crisis and took a look at the pain that Wall Street had sent in a wave across all of America, and thought, 'Ah, there's a great new way to make money, foreclosing on people,' " said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) of Rhode Island. Put more bluntly by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) of Michigan: "Mr. Mnuchin has made his career profiting from the misfortunes of working people." 

But supporters of the new Treasury secretary maintain that as a political outsider with years of business experience – much like the president himself – Mnuchin's appointment fulfills Trump's campaign promise to "drain the swamp" of Washington insiders. 

"The voters spoke in November and wanted change," said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R) of Georgia. "Mr. Mnuchin will help implement that change with a fresh, new regulatory framework that cuts the bureaucratic red tape that costs our economy trillions of dollars each year." 

In a less divisive vote Monday evening, the Senate confirmed physician David Shulkin as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. That vote was unanimous. 

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.