(CNSNews.com) – In an “unprecedented” move, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) suspended committee quorum rules on Wednesday to advance the nominations of two of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet appointees after Democrats on the committee extended their boycott for a second day.
“We took some unprecedented actions today due to the unprecedented obstruction on the part of our colleagues,” Hatch explained in a statement following unanimous passage of a consent motion to suspend the rules.
All 14 Republicans on the committee voted to send the nominations of Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s pick for Treasury secretary, and Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), the president’s choice for secretary of Health & Human Services, to the Senate floor for final approval.
None of the 12 Democrats on the committee were present for the vote.
“The rules of the Finance Committee require a quorum to conduct any committee business, including the reporting of nominees. Specifically, under Rule 4, to achieve a quorum, one-third of committee members – including at least one member from each party – must be present,” Hatch said. “However, under Rule 19, the committee may opt to suspend any of its rules at any time…
“For the record, I’ll note that the Senate Parliamentarian Office has confirmed that this course of action is consistent with both the committee and Senate rules,” he continued.
“I will also note for the record that every Republican member of the committee was present and voting, exceeding the one-third requirement for a quorum under Rule 4. The only thing missing was a member from the minority side. But, as I noted, they, on their own accord, refused to participate in this exercise.”
Hatch, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, added that “the Senate Finance Committee has traditionally been able to function in even the most divisive political environments…That all changed yesterday,” he said.
“Republicans on this committee showed up to do our jobs. Yesterday, rather than accept anything less than their desired outcome, our Democratic colleagues chose to cower in the hallway and hold a press conference.”
Hatch also had harsh words for Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) who organized the boycott, calling him “the same Ranking Member who worked with us on the committee to report – and eventually pass – a record number of bipartisan bills in the last Congress.”
“For all intents and purposes, the Democratic seats on the Finance Committee are all now occupied by the Senate Majority Leader, and all of them appear ready to leap off whatever cliff he designates, even if it means breaching the good faith that has long been the hallmark of this committee,” Hatch said.
But Wyden defended the boycott and criticised the majority's vote to suspend the rules.
“Today, for the 1st time in history, Senate Finance Cmte broke the rules to push through, on a partisan basis, 2 nominees who misled the Cmte,” Wyden tweeted on Wednesday.
“I sincerely hope, for Americans’ sake, @SenateGOP will put partisanship aside & join us in pressing for the answers” to questions Democrats say they still have about the nominees.
“The public deserves to know exactly who we are trusting with #Medicare & our economy,” Wyden tweeted.
But Hatch refuted Wyden’s insistence that Mnuchin and Price had misled the committee during their confirmation hearings, accusing Democrats of using “their own parsed words and vague questions as justification for their refusal to even vote on these nominations.”
“As a result, we are currently in the midst of the longest transition period without a confirmed Treasury Secretary in our nation’s history. And the process for vetting and reporting Dr. Price’s nomination has taken longer than that of the last two HHS secretaries combined,” he said.
Hatch also noted that the suspension of rules was temporary. “I intend to get the committee back to where it once was, and I will use every tool at my disposal, procedural or otherwise, to make sure this doesn’t become the new normal,” he said.
“It is time to get over the fact that they lost the election,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said of Democrats' attempts to stall Trump's Cabinet nominees.
“The president is entitled to have his Cabinet appointments considered. None of this is going to lead to a different outcome.”