Waters gets testy with Mnuchin at House hearing

Waters gets testy with Mnuchin at House hearing
© Greg Nash

An exchange between Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersDemocrats highlight lack of diversity at major banks in new report Fed chief issues stark warning to Congress on deficits 10 Democrats to boycott Trump State of the Union address MORE (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin got testy on Thursday, further highlighting Democratic frustrations with the Trump administration.

Waters, who is quickly becoming President Trump’s harshest congressional critic, prodded Mnuchin during a House Financial Services Committee hearing over why she hadn’t received a response to a May letter she sent him about Trump's financial connections to Russia. 

Instead of immediately answering, Mnuchin started complimenting the ranking member.

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"First of all, let me thank you for your service to California, being a resident of California I appreciate everything that you’ve done,” he said.

But Waters stopped him mid-sentence to reclaim her time — lawmakers usually get about five minutes to question witnesses — and they spent the next few seconds talking over each other.

“Thank you very much, I don’t want to take up my time,” Waters told Mnuchin.

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) then stepped into the fray after Waters repeatedly said she was “reclaiming my time.”

“The time belongs to the gentlelady from California,” he told Mnuchin.

Then Waters continued.

”Let me just say to you, thank you for your compliments on how great I am, but I don’t want to waste my time on me,” she said.

The panel’s top Democrat circled back to the May 23 letter that requested records from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network regarding Trump’s financial ties to Russia.

But Mnuchin insisted he was trying to respond to the panel's top Democrat. 

“I was going to answer that,” Mnuchin said about responding to the letter.

“Mr. Chairman, I thought when you read the rules you acknowledged that I shouldn’t be interrupted and that I would have [time],” he said looking at Hensarling. 

That led Waters to once again cry foul and reclaim her time.

“What [Hensarling] failed to tell you was you’re on my time,” Waters said. “I can reclaim it. He left that out, so I’m reclaiming my time.”

But the exchange continued to heat up. 

“I was going to tell you my response,” Mnuchin insisted.

“Just tell me,” Waters said.

Hensarling had to step in again and Mnuchin asked for another clarification.

“Perhaps Mr. Chairman I don’t understand the rules because I thought I was allowed to answer questions,” Mnuchin said over Waters’s repeating that she was “reclaiming my time.”

At the start of the hearing, Hensarling had laid out the rules of decorum about to treat administration witnesses. 

That was more about how those witnesses “should be treated not necessarily the way they would be treated," Hensarling said.

But Waters wasn’t the only Democrat to spar with Mnuchin.

Later in the hearing, Mnuchin and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) had words over the secretary’s role in OneWest Bank's aggressive foreclosure policies during the financial crisis. 

Mnuchin told the panel that he takes “great offense” to being called "the foreclosure king."

Then Mnuchin and Ellison exchanged words over whether OneWest was involved in the robo-signing of thousands of mortgages.

“What’s your position on robo-signing," Ellison asked Mnunchin.

“You know I’ve answered this extensively,” said Mnuchin who was the CEO of OneWest, formerly IndyMac.

As the bank's profile grew in Southern California during the 2008 financial crisis, the bank earned a reputation for its rapid rate of foreclosures, many considered shoddy robo-signings that led to many owners losing their homes. 

“You have to answer it now, sir,” Ellison said.

“I’m going to and you have to listen to me,” Mnuchin said.

“No I don’t have to listen to you. I’ve asked you a direct question I’d like an answer," Ellison shot back. 

"Are you willing to answer the question or not," Ellison said. 

"Repeat your question," Mnuchin responded. 

"Again I don’t even think you know what the definition of robo-signing is,” the secretary told Ellison. 

"You don’t know what I know," the lawmaker said. 

“There’s not a legal definition of robo-signing,” Mnuchin said.

With the exchange heating up, Waters stepped in and asked Hensarling whether he would ask the secretary to apologize to Ellison.

Hensarling, who showed visible frustration, repeatedly banging the gavel to remind Waters that she wasn’t in line to speak, declined. 

Then Mnuchin continued. 

“I’d like the record to state that OneWest bank was the only bank that concluded the independent foreclosure review and every single loan was reviewed and was properly compensated," Mnuchin said. 

“It also was the only bank to have done those loan modifications," he added. 

He then addressed Waters's request for an apology. 

“Ranking member, I’ve had the opportunity to talk about this with you many times before and this is nothing new and I’m very proud of OneWest’s record,” said.

“And I’m not apologizing to anybody because robo-signing is not a legal term and I was being harassed."