GOP changes rules to push through nominees after Dem boycott

Senate Republicans pushed through a pair of President Trump’s Cabinet nominees Wednesday, upending standard committee rules to circumvent a Democratic boycott.

The Senate Finance Committee advanced a pair of Trump’s nominees with only Republican members present — Steven Mnuchin to head the Treasury Department, and Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) as secretary of Health and Human Services.

By unanimous consent, the Republicans gathered in the hearing room agreed to change the committee’s standing rules, which normally require at least one member of each party to be in attendance for committee work to proceed.

“It’s just another way of roughing up the president’s nominees,” said committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchRead Senate GOP's tax bill Senate panel to start tax bill markup on Monday Senate set for clash with House on tax bill MORE (R-Utah). “They have been treated fairly. We have not been treated fairly.”

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Republicans made the unusual move after Democrats refused to attend a vote on the nominees for two days running, arguing the pair had made misleading statements to lawmakers that needed to be rectified.

The nominees now head to the Senate floor, as partisan tensions over filling out Trump’s White House continued to intensify.

Democrats are crying foul over Mnuchin’s answers over how OneWest Bank, which he headed after the financial crisis, handled foreclosures for mortgages it held, and also whether he was sufficiently forthcoming about foreign entities he helped establish.

And questions have swirled for weeks around Price’s investment activity, including whether his political actions benefitted his personal portfolio.

“We made it clear yesterday that when we got answers to these questions, we’re ready to move ahead," Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenLobbying World Overnight Regulation: House to vote on repealing joint-employer rule | EPA won't say which areas don't meet Obama smog rule | Lawmakers urge regulators to reject Perry plan New tax plan will hinder care for older Americans MORE (D-Ore.) said after the GOP maneuver. "We're going to keep pushing to get the facts."

“Both nominees have yet to answer important questions that impact the American people,” committee Democrats wrote in a letter sent to Hatch Wednesday.

“Further, we have significant concern that both Mr. Mnuchin and Mr. Price gave inaccurate and misleading testimony and responses to questions to the Committee. These cabinet nominees should answer basic questions that the American people deserve answers to before moving forward.”

Hatch was dismissive of that argument Wednesday.

“Oh, come on. Come on,” he said. “They don’t have one argument that’s worthwhile. Not one. And if they had, they should have shown up.”

The Democratic blockade is the most visible example of that party’s renewed efforts to slow the consideration of Trump’s nominees to a crawl, as the party and its base hardens in opposition to the new president.

- Updated at 10:27 a.m.