Top Dem gives Trump's budget pick 'benefit of the doubt'

Top Dem gives Trump's budget pick 'benefit of the doubt'
© Greg Nash
Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat, is cutting Rep. Mick Mulvaney some slack as the South Carolina Republican aims to join the Trump administration.
 
Mulvaney, President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump lawyers to Supreme Court: Jan. 6 committee 'will not be harmed by delay' Two House Democrats announce they won't seek reelection DiCaprio on climate change: 'Vote for people that are sane' MORE's pick to head the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), is under fire this week after acknowledging a failure to pay more than $15,000 in taxes for a babysitter hired almost two decades ago.
 
Some top Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Voting rights week for Democrats (again) Kelly takes under-the-radar approach in Arizona Senate race Hundreds attend mass funeral for victims of Bronx apartment building fire MORE (N.Y.), say Mulvaney's lapse should disqualify him from consideration. But Clyburn isn't joining the chorus of Democrats calling for a scalp.
 
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"I hope, with him, it was an oversight," Clyburn told a small group of reporters in the Capitol on Thursday. "I'll give him the benefit of the doubt ... absolutely."
 
The liberal Clyburn emphasized that, politically, he's "poles apart" from Mulvaney, a founding member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. But regional interests, and simple proximity, have forged a personal bond between the two.
 
"He's a guy I like playing golf with," Clyburn said. "He is a South Carolinian, and I want to be proud of all South Carolinians."
 
Other Democrats haven't been so forgiving.
 
They're quick to note that similar tax scandals have sunk at least three nominees tapped to join Democratic administrations under President Clinton and President Obama.
 
"If failure to pay taxes was disqualifying for Democratic nominees, then the same should be true for Republican nominees,” Schumer said Wednesday in a statement.
 
Mulvaney is scheduled to appear before a pair of Senate committees next Tuesday. 
 
Clyburn cited a personal story in defending Mulvaney's lapse. His father, a minister, had failed decades ago to pay the taxes on a caregiver he'd hired to tend Clyburn's ailing mother. The reason, he said, is the same one Mulvaney has offered this month: He simply didn't know he owed the money.
 
"My daddy didn't realize it either, but he paid a hell of a penalty for it," Clyburn said. "Of course, he wasn't trying to be director of OMB."
 
Clyburn suggested the controversy surrounding Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) is more severe.
 
Price, Trump's pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has been dogged by allegations that he was trading healthcare stocks at the same time he was pushing legislation that would help those companies' bottom lines. 
 
In one instance, he purchased the shares in Innate Immunotherapeutics, a biotech firm, at a discounted rate after discussions with Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), who sits on the company's board. Democrats are charging that Price may have violated the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, which bars lawmakers from trading on information gleaned from their duties as legislators. 
 
"I like him, we get along well," Clyburn said of Price. "[But] I'm hearing two stories from him, and I'm wondering about that. 
 
"To me that's more more serious than oversight of payroll taxes," he added.
 
Clyburn, the highest ranking African American in Congress, also defended his decision to attend Trump's inauguration Friday, even as scores of fellow Democrats are boycotting the event. 
 
"Being a leader sometimes means that you have to make sacrifices and sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone," he said. 
 
Clyburn said his wife chided him for that decision.
 
"'I understand you're going, but I want you to understand I don't like it,'" he said, relating her message. 
 
"This is one of the few times that she and I have had a parting of ways on something."