Despite Democratic boycott, Senate panel approves Mnuchin and Price

Senate Democrats refused to show up for committee votes on Rep. Tom Price's nomination for health secretary and financier Steven Mnuchin's nomination for treasury secretary.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File
Treasury Secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin arrives on Capitol Hill on Jan. 19 to testify at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee.

In an escalation of political partisanship, Republicans on Senate panels approved President Trump's nominees for secretaries of the Treasury and the Department of Health and Human Services, after suspending a rule requiring a Democrat to be present.

Democrats had boycotted the Senate Finance Committee votes on the two nominees – Steven Mnuchin as head of the Treasury Department and Rep. Tom Price (R) of Georgia for health secretary – citing concerns about the two men's financial backgrounds. 

The Senate Finance Committee approved Rep. Mr. Price and Mr. Mnuchin with a pair of 14-0 roll calls. Before approving the two nominees, the committee's Republicans voted 14-0 to suspend a rule that requires at least one Democrat to be present for any votes. Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, (R) of Utah, said the Democrats had forced them to take extraordinary measures, saying their boycott was "one of the most pathetic things I've ever seen" and "a nefarious breach of protocol."

Though all three nominees are still expected to be confirmed once they are voted on by the full Republican-controlled Senate, the Democrats’ protests may signal that they will be a confrontational minority, committed to opposing Trump wherever they feel his values do not align with theirs.

Democrats are obliged to “thoroughly vet” the nominees, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer told reporters, adding, “They could be in office up to four years, and it makes eminent sense to get their views out.”

The hostility between the parties appears to have intensified since Friday, when Trump imposed a temporary travel ban on refugees and all visitors from seven predominantly Muslim nations. Democrats see the move as unconstitutional.

Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee have accused both men of misleading the public about their finances.

Price “misled the Congress and he misled the American people,” top Finance Committee Democrat Ron Wyden said, referring to a Wall Street Journal report that Price received a special offer on shares in biotech company Innate Immunotherapeutics Ltd. He had testified that those shares were available to all investors.

Mnuchin has been criticized over reports by the Columbus Dispatch that his former bank, OneWest, used “robo-signing,” a technique associated with fraud, to sign hundreds of mortgage documents. Mnuchin denied the report. Democrats also contend that the selection of Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker and hedge fund manager, runs counter to Trump’s promise to crack down on Wall Street.

Forty-seven protesters were arrested in a Senate office building Tuesday, as they called for Sen. Hatch to justify the choice of Price and opposed the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Obama’s signature healthcare law.

Few doubt that all three nominees will eventually be confirmed. For Democrats, it’s more a question of highlighting points of contention and potentially forcing discussion on the issues.

Progress continues for other nominees, too. On Tuesday, the full Senate confirmed Elaine Chao as transportation secretary, and advanced Trump’s picks for Education, Energy, Interior, and the Small Business Administration.

Material from the Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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