Democrats delay confirmation of Mnuchin, Price

They say they have been misled by Trump's Cabinet picks and want to probe unresolved issues

WASHINGTON • Senate Democrats have significantly escalated tensions with the White House, stalling action on two of President Donald Trump's most important Cabinet nominees, Mr Steven Mnuchin for Treasury Secretary and Representative Tom Price for Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Democrats boycotted a meeting of the Senate finance committee on Tuesday that had been scheduled to vote on the two nominees. They said they had been misled by the nominees and wanted an opportunity to investigate unanswered questions about Mr Price's investments and Mr Mnuchin's role in a bank that has been criticised for aggressive foreclosure practices.

Democrat Senator Sherrod Brown said Mr Mnuchin had "out-and-out lied to our committee" about the robotic signing of foreclosure documents by the bank, OneWest, when he was its chief executive.

Democrats also said Mr Price had misled the committee about his investment in a small Australian biotechnology company that could have benefited from legislation he promoted. Mr Price bought discounted shares in the company through a private placement after learning about the company from another congressman.

But the chairman of the committee, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, said the Democrats were "very upset with Donald Trump" and had therefore "crippled his administration right out of the box" by delaying and obstructing approval of some of his nominees.

Under finance committee rules, the panel needs a quorum, including at least one member of the minority party, to conduct business.

Democrats have no immediate prospect of stopping Mr Trump's nominees, but by dragging out the confirmation process, they said, they can slow down his ability to carry out policies that many Democrats adamantly oppose.

The Senate majority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, said Democrats were "manufacturing issues on a daily basis" to string out the confirmation process. But he said: "None of this is going to lead to a different outcome. The Cabinet appointments are going to be approved."

As Mr Trump's dramatic firing on Monday of his acting attorney-general, Ms Sally Yates, threw the capital into tumult, Democrats also seized on the contentiousness to try to block Senator Jeff Sessions' nomination for the post. They said he was too close to Mr Trump to be independent. They forced a delay of at least one day for a judiciary committee vote on Mr Sessions.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the senior Democrat on the judiciary committee, said Ms Yates had shown "guts" in refusing to defend Mr Trump's executive order on immigration. "I have no confidence that Senator Sessions will do that," Mrs Feinstein said.

But other Trump nominees advanced on Tuesday. By a vote of 93-6, the Senate approved the nomination of Ms Elaine Chao to be Secretary of Transportation.

By a vote of 12-11, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labour and Pensions recommended confirmation of Mrs Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary. She is a Republican fund-raiser and donor.

Mr Trump's pick for Energy Secretary, former governor Rick Perry of Texas, won backing from the Senate committee on energy and natural resources, which voted 16-7 to recommend his confirmation.

And by a vote of 16-6, that committee approved Republican Representative Ryan Zinke to lead the Interior Department. Another Senate committee voted 18-1 to approve Mrs Linda McMahon, a former wrestling entertainment executive, to be head of the Small Business Administration. NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 02, 2017, with the headline 'Democrats delay confirmation of Mnuchin, Price'. Print Edition | Subscribe