WASHINGTON — The Republican leaders of a key Senate committee forced through the Cabinet nomination of Georgia U.S. Rep. Tom Price Wednesday morning, hastily convening a meeting to defy a Democratic blockade and send the Trump administration’s top health pick to the Senate floor.
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 when voting 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.
The procedural maneuvering represented an extraordinary turn of events for the tax-writing committee, which prides itself on bipartisan cooperation.
“Long story short we took some unprecedented actions today due to the unprecedented obstruction on the part of our colleagues,” said Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the committee’s chairman.
Hatch and other committee Republicans were still fuming over Democrats’ boycott of the Senate Finance Committee’s initial meeting to vote on Price and Mnuchin’s nominations 24 hours earlier.
Democrats had cited lingering questions following separate media reports that suggested both men may have misled the committee during their confirmation hearings. They said they wanted more time to ask questions of the nominees and their associates.
The increasingly partisan tiffs over Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees and Supreme Court pick threaten to eradicate any chance of bipartisanship between the new president and congressional Democrats in the years ahead.
“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,” said Hatch. “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.”
Shortly after Wednesday’s actions, Ron Wyden of Oregon, the committee’s top Democrat, tweeted that Republicans should “put partisanship aside & join us in pressing for the answers.”
“The public deserves to know exactly who we are trusting with #Medicare & our economy,” Wyden continued. He then re-upped Democrats’ outstanding questions for Price:
The reality is that Democrats are now left with little hope to stop Price or Mnuchin’s nominations beyond delaying them a few days since they don’t have enough votes to filibuster on the Senate floor. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could tee up votes as soon as this week.
Hatch said the actions he took Wednesday were previously cleared by the Senate’s rules keeper.
Georgia U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson voted to advance both nominations.
“Under the rules, what we did is perfectly doable,” Isakson said in a brief interview after the vote. “Tricky, but doable and with precedent.”
Read more: Photos: Rep. Tom Price, Trump’s HHS nominee