Senate panel suspends rules, backs Price, Mnuchin for Cabinet

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By Susan Cornwell

<span class="articleLocation”>Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee
suspended committee rules and confirmed U.S. Representative Tom
Price to head the Department of Health and Human Services and
banker Steven Mnuchin to be Treasury secretary Wednesday on a
straight party line vote, sending the nominations to the Senate
floor.

Under pressure from their political base to block President
Donald Trump’s nominees, Democrats stayed away from the meeting
for a second day running. This normally would have stopped
action, but Republicans plowed ahead by voting to suspend the
rule that required at least one Democrat to be present for
business to be conducted.

Republican members of the committee, who were all present, then approved the nominees 14-0. The nominees are considered
likely to be confirmed by the Republican-majority Senate.

“We took some unprecedented action today due to some
unprecedented obstruction on the part of our colleagues,” said
the panel’s chairman, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah,
who was furious over the Democrats’ no-show. He said he had
obtained approval from the Senate parliamentarian for the move
suspending the rule.

Democrats were also unhappy.

“It’s deeply troubling to me that Republicans on the Finance
Committee chose to break the rules in the face of strong
evidence of two nominees’ serious ethical problems,” the Finance
Committee’s top Democrat, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, said in a
statement.

The Democrats said Tuesday they were boycotting Finance
Committee proceedings because they wanted more information on
Price’s stock trades in an Australian medical company and
reports that Mnuchin’s former bank, OneWest, used automated “robo-signings” of foreclosure documents, which apparently
contradicted statements the nominees had made to senators.

Senate Democrats on Wednesday boycotted another committee
vote on Trump’s pick to head the Environmental Protection
Agency, Scott Pruitt, who has expressed doubts about the science
of climate change. That session ended without any committee
action.

Republicans accused the Democrats of deliberately stalling
the functions of Trump’s new administration. “They (the
Democrats) had tons of information (about Price and Mnuchin),”
Hatch said. “It’s another way of roughing up the president and
his choice of nominees.”

But Democrats have come under pressure from liberal
activists who want them to counter Trump at every turn,
especially after his order last week blocking immigration from
seven majority-Muslim countries. It sparked a wave of protests
in major U.S. cities.

One group that has been running television ads against
Mnuchin blasted Republicans for the vote.

“Steven Mnuchin is such an illegitimate, compromised nominee
that Republicans had to change the rules to force through his
nomination,” said Kait Sweeney, press secretary of the
Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and David Lawder)



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