In the face of a boycott by Democrats on the panel, Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee temporarily suspended a rule that would have required at least one Democrat to be present for a vote to go forward on Tom Price’s nomination to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.
The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday voted to confirm Representative Tom Price to head the Department of Health and Human Services and banker Steven Mnuchin to be treasury secretary, sending the nominations to the full Senate for a confirmation vote. Democrats tried to block the committee vote for a second day by boycotting the meeting, but Republicans changed the rules that had required Democrats to be present for quorum.
Without a single Democrat in attendance, every GOP member of the Senate Finance Committee voted to temporarily lift the panel’s rules in order to circumvent a requirement that at least one Democrat be in attendance to vote on an executive branch nominee. The committee then voted 14-0 to advance Price’s nomination and that of Treasury pick Steve Mnuchin to the full Senate for consideration.
Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, pointing to the “extraordinary circumstances” of the meeting, allowed the Republicans on the committee to vote to suspend the rules of the committee. Hatch said the Senate Parliamentarian approved of the procedural maneuver. Under the rules, it is required that at least one Democrat be present for the panel to vote to send a nominee to the Senate floor. On Tuesday, not a single Democrat showed up, putting the two nominations at a standstill.
Chairman Orrin Hatch defended his decision to take emergency measures to push the nominations forward. “I don’t care what they do, but the parliamentarian said this is a proper decision.” he told reporters after the votes. Democrats “didn’t even have the courtesy to tell me they weren’t going to show up yesterday and were holding press conferences out there without even talking to me. So I don’t feel a bit sorry for them,” Hatch said. “I don’t care what they want at this point. They’ve proven that they don’t act in good faith.”
The GOP move comes after Democrats walked out of hearings on Tuesday, denying Republicans the necessary votes to approve Trump’s nominees for a vote in the full Senate. Democrats planned to replicate that approach Wednesday to slow consideration of Trump’s pick of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. “Yesterday, rather than accept anything less than their desired outcome, our Democrat colleagues chose to cower in the hallway and hold a press conference,” Hatch said Tuesday in a statement.
Price and Mnuchin are likely to be confirmed by the full Senate, thanks to broad Republican support.