WASHINGTON — The Senate Finance Committee approved the nomination of Treasury Secretary-designate Steven Mnuchin 14-0 on Wednesday after changing the rules to allow Republicans to vote without any Democrats present.
The move came in response to Democrats' decision to boycott the vote of two nominees — Mnuchin and Health and Human Services Director-designate Tom Price — which under the previous rules would not allow a vote to take place. Republicans harshly criticized Democrats' decision as a political stunt, while Democrats said both Mnuchin and Price needed to respond to allegations that they had lied to Congress.
“We took some unprecedented actions today due to the unprecedented obstruction on the part of our colleagues,” said Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. “The Senate Finance Committee has traditionally been able to function in even the most divisive political environments.”
The executive session to vote on Mnuchin’s nomination was called abruptly around 9:00 a.m. and the top ranking Democrat on the committee Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said he was unaware of the meeting.
“I don’t know all the details of what just transpired, but it seems to me the basic proposition of breaking the rules so you can in effect look the other way in the face of strong evidence of serious ethical problems for two nominees is exceptionally troubling,” Wyden told reporters after the hearing.
Hatch said the decision to suspend the rules and move forward without any Democrats present was approved by the Senate Parliamentarian Office. The decision to give short notice also appeared to be a jab at Democrats after they boycotted Tuesday’s vote without letting the Republicans know.
“There wasn’t anything but bipartisanship yesterday. In fact it flew in the face of what they promised to do,” Hatch told reporters after the hearing. “They were all going to vote ‘no,’ and that’s another reason why they shouldn’t have done what they did yesterday."
Mnuchin's nomination will now proceed to the Senate floor. Under a change made originally by Democrats, he would need only a majority to be confirmed to the post, bypassing the need for any Democratic support.