Senate Democrats Boycott Vote to Advance Trump’s HHS Nominee (Updated)

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Senate Democrats Boycott Vote to Advance Trump’s HHS Nominee (Updated)

Ally Boguhn

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) pointed to what he deemed "truly alarming news" that contrary to his committee testimony, the president's HHS nominee had received a privileged offer to buy medical stock at a reduced price.

UPDATE, February 1, 10:34 a.m.: Following Democrats’ boycott, Hatch suspended the Senate Finance Committee’s rules to advance Price’s hearing without their presence. “We took some unprecedented actions today due to the unprecedented obstruction on the part of our colleagues,” Hatch said. Price’s nomination will now proceed to the Senate floor for a final confirmation vote.

Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee boycotted key votes Tuesday on President Trump’s cabinet nominations, including a vote to move along the process of confirming anti-choice Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) to lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Democrats on the panel said they still had unanswered questions about Price and Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s Treasury secretary nominee. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the committee’s ranking member, pointed to what he deemed “truly alarming news” reported by the Wall Street Journal that contrary to his committee testimony, Price had received a privileged offer to buy medical stock at a reduced price.

“This is contrary to congressional testimony he gave. Congressman insisted he didn’t get special access to a special deal,” Wyden said at the press conference, according to CNN. “He misled the Congress and he misled the American people.”

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Wyden, in a statement to the Huffington Post on Tuesday, said that Price and Mnuchin had “misled the public and held back important information about their backgrounds.”

“Until questions are answered, Democrats believe the committee should not move forward with either nomination,” he told the outlet. “This is about getting answers to questions, plain and simple. Ethics laws are not optional, and nominees do not have a right to treat disclosure like a shell game.”

When Democrats on the Senate committee didn’t show up for the scheduled vote on Price, committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said that “they ought to stop posturing and acting like idiots.”

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) said Republicans “did not inflict this kind of obstructionism on President Obama,” omitting that the GOP obstructed committee votes on Obama’s EPA pick Gina McCarthy in 2013.

Democrats in a Monday letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Hatch demanded a delay on Price’s vote, citing “outstanding and significant questions about his qualifications and ethical conduct.”

The letter noted that Price had yet to answer questions from the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which convened in January to consider his nomination. Those included follow-up questions about Price’s answers to the committee about his stock trading.

The letter said voting on Price’s nomination “prior to concerns regarding his actions being fully investigated and addressed is contrary to both the regular practice and the responsibility of the Senate.” 

“We applaud Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee for taking bold action and making clear that Tom Price is unfit to serve as HHS Secretary,” Kaylie Hanson Long, NARAL Pro-Choice America’s national communications director, said in a statement. “Price’s record, his self-dealing, and the fact that he blatantly misled the public about his financial dealings should concern all Americans and makes him wholly unqualified. The actions by these senators send a powerful and important message.”

Price, a longtime opponent of expanding health-care access through the Affordable Care Act, has said “there’s not one” woman who can’t afford contraception. He belongs to a group that has linked abortion care to cancer and supports radical “personhood” legislation.