Great news: No Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee voted against Donald Trump’s nominees for Treasury and Health and Human Services! Related news: No Democrats showed up for the committee vote either. After Senate Democrats began a boycott of the committee yesterday, chair Orrin Hatch executed a rule change and conducted the vote for both Steve Mnuchin and Tom Price, resulting in unanimous endorsements for confirmation:
Senate Finance Committee Republicans Wednesday morning used a procedural maneuver to jam through the nominations of Rep. Tom Price for HHS secretary and Steven Mnuchin for Treasury secretary without any Democrats present to object.
The Republicans voted to temporarily suspend committee rules requiring at least one Democrat present to conduct business. The move came after Finance Committee Democrats boycotted scheduled votes on both nominations Tuesday, citing concerns over whether Price and Mnuchin made misleading statements during their testimony.
“We took some unprecedented actions today due to the unprecedented obstruction of our colleagues,” Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said.
Where were the Finance Committee Democrats? Holding a press conference in the hallway, which angered Hatch and provoked the rule change. Hatch then explained the action by painting Democrats on the committee as petulant cowards:
“We took some unprecedented actions today due to the unprecedented obstruction on the part of our colleagues. As I noted earlier, the Senate Finance Committee has traditionally been able to function in even the most divisive political environments. Personally, as longtime member of this committee, I have been proud of that distinction. And, in my time as both Ranking Member and Chairman of this committee, I have bent over backwards to preserve its unique status as one of the few places where Republicans and Democrats not only work together, but achieve results. That all changed yesterday. Republicans on this committee showed up to do our jobs. Yesterday, rather than accept anything less than their desired outcome, our Democrat colleagues chose to cower in the hallway and hold a press conference. Now, I get that my colleagues think these nominees are controversial. I get that they don’t want to see them confirmed. We’ve all been in that situation. It comes part and parcel with the job of being a Senator. And, this is hardly the first time a nominee deemed to be controversial has come before this committee.”
As publicity stunts go, this one seems exceptionally … foolish. Neither Price nor Mnuchin are the most controversial of Trump’s nominees; Price is a long-term member of the House and a medical doctor, certainly qualified to run Health and Human Services, and Mnuchin is a Democrat from Wall Street (and Hollywood!), which was good enough for Senate Democrats in the previous administration. Why not just vote “no” as a bloc and hold the press conference afterward? It’s as if Harry Reid had never nuked the filibuster.
That, however, is just normal foolishness. What makes this exceptionally foolish is pulling this stunt on Orrin Hatch — one only two Republicans publicly arguing to allow Senate Democrats to keep the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees (Susan Collins is the other). Hatch may not change his mind easily on this point, but Democrats had better believe that they just taught him a lesson about the level of comity he can expect from the next two years or more. They couldn’t have picked a worse venue for their impotent stunt, and now Hatch has set a precedent that can’t be easily walked back either. Dumb, dumb move.