Charging them with lying to the panel, Democratic lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee boycotted votes on two of President Donald Trump's controversial cabinet nominees on Tuesday.
The Democrats surprised their colleagues on the committee by refusing to show up to confirmation votes on Treasury nominee Steven Mnuchin and Health and Human Services nominee Tom Price. "Instead," Politico reports, "they held a press conference down the hall where they accused Mnuchin and Price of misleading Congress."
"The lies and omissions from nominees Mnuchin and Price are neither accidents nor anomalies. They fit a pattern and practice of the not-even-two-week-old Trump administration: casual disregard for the truth and ethical standards."
—Robert Weissman, Public Citizen
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who led the boycott, declared: "We have great concern that Sen. [Orrin] Hatch is asking us to vote on two nominees today who have out-and-out lied to our committee."
On Monday, Brown reached out to Sen. Roy Wyden (D-Ore.), the top Democrat on the Finance Committee. Brown said they were also both "incensed" about a Wall Street Journal story reporting that Price received a special private offer to buy a biomedical stock at a discount—again in direct contradiction to this testimony before the Senate committee.
With a green light from Wyden, Brown began calling and pigeonholing the other Democrats on the committee, to see if they could get unanimous agreement to boycott the hearing. He said he worked the phones until about 11 p.m. on Monday night, and then the Democrats huddled in Wyden's office on Tuesday morning, just minutes before the hearing was set to begin.
Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Penn., said they went in without a consensus on the right strategy but emerged unified on the decision to boycott.
"He misled Congress and he misled the American people," Wyden said of Price at the press conference.
According to the Dispatch:
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Mnuchin, former chairman and chief executive officer of OneWest Bank, known for its aggressive foreclosure practices, flatly denied in testimony before the Senate Finance Committee that OneWest used "robo-signing" on mortgage documents.
But records show the bank utilized the questionable practice in Ohio.
"The guy is just lying. There's no other way to say it," said Bill Faith, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio.
Hatch was outraged at the Democrats' strategy, saying he was "very disappointed in this kind of crap" and that the lawmakers "ought to stop posturing and acting like idiots."
But watchdog groups and citizens, who have pushed Democrats to show stronger resistance to Trump's agenda, supported the senators' move. Progressive policy group Demand Progress, which has vociferously opposed Mnuchin's nomination, said the Democrats were employing "exactly the type of approach needed at this critical moment."
"They make it clear that at least one party is standing on the side of their constituents and working Americans, instead of kowtowing to Wall Street and Donald Trump," said the group's campaign director, Kurt Walters. "Republican senators concerned about their legacies—and re-election—would do well to follow suit."
Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch division, added: "We are pleased to see senators taking seriously the astounding conflicts of interest presented by Donald Trump's corporate Cabinet."
Public Citizen's executive director, Robert Weissman, concurred: "Good for Senate Democrats for taking a stand and speaking honestly about the dishonesty of the Trump nominees. The lies and omissions from nominees Mnuchin and Price are neither accidents nor anomalies. They fit a pattern and practice of the not-even-two-week-old Trump administration: casual disregard for the truth and ethical standards. These ethical norms aren't prudish formalities—they are intended to prevent exactly the kind of conflicts of interest and handing over of policy-making to regulated industry that is already defining the Trump administration."
Referring to Price's stated desire to cut key safety-net programs, Alex Lawson of Social Security Works also chimed in. "Given that Price is a liar and his far-right policy views blatantly contradict Trump's campaign promise," Lawson said, "Democrats are absolutely right to block him by any means necessary."
Meanwhile, Democrats also used a procedural move to delay the Judiciary Committee vote on Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) for attorney general.
"This is what #RESISTANCE looks like," Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) wrote online.