Aaron Fobes, Julia Lawless (202)224-4515
Hatch Statement at Executive Session to Consider Treasury, HHS Nominations
Committee Suspends Quorum Requirements Under Unanimous Consent
WASHINGTON – Following Senate Finance Committee Democrats’ unprecedented move to boycott two cabinet level committee confirmation votes, the Committee today passed a unanimous consent (UC) motion to suspend a rule regarding quorum requirements for nomination votes in an executive session to consider Steven Mnuchin to serve as U.S. Treasury Secretary and Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) to serve as Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary.
Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who described the Democrats’ protest as “the most pathetic thing,” outlined the details of the UC agreement, saying:
“The rules of the Finance Committee require a quorum to conduct any committee business, including the reporting of nominees. Specifically, under Rule 4, to achieve a quorum, one-third of committee members – including at least one member from each party – must be present. However, under Rule 19, the committee may opt to suspend any of its rules at any time. Senator Isakson asked for Unanimous Consent to suspend Rule 4 and all applicable rules for the purpose of voting on these two nominees. That request was agreed to after a successful appeal to my ruling on its germaneness, making the quorum requirements of Rule 4 and all other rules that could prevent a vote on these nominations inapplicable. We then proceeded to vote on the nominations. For the record, I’ll note that the Senate Parliamentarian Office has confirmed that this course of action is consistent with both the committee and Senate rules. I will also note for the record that every Republican member of the committee was present and voting, exceeding the one-third requirement for a quorum under Rule 4. The only thing missing was a member from the minority side. But, as I noted, they, on their own accord, refused to participate in this exercise.”
Hatch went on to note, “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.”
Hatch further reaffirmed his commitment to returning the Committee to its bipartisan roots, “Needless to say, this discussion isn’t over. I intend to get the committee back to where it once was, and I will use every tool at my disposal, procedural or otherwise, to make sure this doesn’t become the new normal for the Senate Finance Committee.”
Chairman Hatch’s complete opening statement, as prepared for delivery, is below:
First, I’ll remark on the action that was just taken, because I’m fairly certain our colleagues will try to characterize it as some kind of nefarious breach of protocol.
So, before the Democrats call another press conference, here are the facts:
Throughout the process of vetting and considering these nominations, I made a good faith effort to address my colleagues concerns, including extended questioning periods, both during the hearings and in writing. Yet, at every step, the nomination process has been undermined by political gamesmanship. One of many examples includes leaking typically private disclosures from the nominees to the media in order to build public cases against them.
There have been charges made about the nominees’ ethics, finances, and integrity. Yet, in each case, the allegations proved to be misleading and dramatically overstated.
Case in point, with Dr. Price, we’ve heard repeatedly that he was offered and accepted sweetheart investment deal from an Australian BioMed company. But, the truth is that the company had a very small group of initial U.S. investors at that time, and everyone in that group – you can call it a “select group” if you want -- were all offered the same access to the stock purchases.
Dr. Price’s account of the investment hasn’t really been substantially refuted, let alone disproven. But, my colleagues claim that their misinterpretation of his testimony is grounds for an indefinite delay on his confirmation.
With Mr. Mnuchin, we’ve heard a lot about “robo-signing” in the past couple days. What we haven’t heard is a fixed definition as to what constitutes “robo-signing.” That’s because no fixed definition exists. It is a vague label casually thrown around to refer to a broad set of practices. There is no agreed upon standard – legal or otherwise – as to what constitutes “robo-signing.” Therefore, any question that simply throws out the term without specifically explaining what is meant by it is not only poorly written, it is inherently vague.
In his answer to a colleagues’ vague written question, Mr. Mnuchin stated that OneWest did not engage in the practice and referred to a government review of practices that provide an analog for the loose notion of “robo-signing.” According to the measures utilized in that review, OneWest did not engage in “robo-signing.”
In other words, Mr. Mnuchin provided an honest answer.
This the level of minutia we’re dealing with here. My colleagues are using their own parsed words and vague questions as justification for their refusal to even vote on these nominations.
As a result, we are currently in the midst of the longest transition period without a confirmed Treasury Secretary in our nation’s history. And, the process for vetting and reporting Dr. Price’s nomination has taken longer than that of the last two HHS Secretaries combined.
At every turn, my colleagues’ arguments change, but their answer is always the same: delay.
And, then yesterday, my colleagues took the unprecedented step of boycotting a Finance Committee vote on nominations.
Long story short, 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. That all changed yesterday.
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. And, I’d defy ANYONE to give an example of a time when I’ve done otherwise.
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.
I’ll remind everyone that, nine years ago, this committee processed a Treasury Secretary nominee that was HIGHLY controversial. He had an outstanding tax bill of nearly $40,000, as much as many Americans make in a year. And, for some of our colleagues, his explanation for the unpaid taxes didn’t seem to add up. And, he was appointed by a President that our side did not support and with whom we had serious – and I mean SERIOUS – disagreements.
Yet, even then, 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.
To make matters worse, our colleagues did all of this despite the fact that the Ranking Member and I had worked through the process together on these nominations and had agreed upon the timeline for votes. I had, of course, foolishly assumed my colleague was operating good faith.
Worse still, the decision to boycott yesterday’s meeting was not conveyed to anyone on our side until literally seconds before we were scheduled to begin. And, the decision wasn’t even conveyed to us by the Ranking Member in person.
While clearly I am frustrated by this turn of events, I am actually more confused than anything else.
The Senator who led this boycott is the same Ranking Member who worked with us on the committee to report – and eventually pass – a record number of bipartisan bills in the last Congress.
It is the same Ranking Member that defied many in his own party to draft, support, and help pass historic trade legislation in 2015.
It is the same Ranking Member with whom we have been able to navigate a number of dicey political issues, including, for example, our investigation into the IRS targeting schedule.
Today, the Ranking Member who did all of those things is nowhere to be found. For all intents and purposes, the Democrat seats on the Finance Committee are all now occupied by the Senate Minority Leader, and all of them appear ready to leap off whatever cliff he designates, even if it means breaching the good faith that has long been the hallmark of this committee.
Needless to say, this discussion isn’t over. I intend to get the committee back to where it once was, and I will use every tool at my disposal, procedural or otherwise, to make sure this doesn’t become the new normal for the Senate Finance Committee.
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