McMahon dodges smackdown from Small Business Committee

McMahon dodges smackdown from Small Business Committee
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

Former World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) head Linda McMahon called upon her experience as the former CEO of the pro-wrestling empire in an attempt to convince senators that she’s the right choice to run President Trump’s Small Business Administration (SBA).

McMahon fielded friendly questions from both Republicans and Democrats during her relatively short Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship confirmation hearing Tuesday. 

Though McMahon and her husband turned WWE into a multimillion-dollar business — and Bloomberg Billionaires estimate their net worth at $1.356 billion — she recounted their early business struggles in her opening statement.

“I remember the early days, when every month I had to decide whether I should continue to lease a typewriter or if I could finally afford to buy it,” she said, noting she shared a desk with her husband in the beginning.

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"Yes, that $12 a month really made a difference in our budget.”

Trump’s pick to lead the agency tasked with issuing millions in loans to small businesses even acknowledged the couple was forced to file bankruptcy when they were young, after making a bad business investment. 

Committee Chairman James Risch (R-Idaho) called the testimony “heartbreaking,” an example of the mostly friendly treatment McMahon received from the panel.

“She does have that small-business experience,” he told The Hill after the hearing.

“The last business she was in started as a small business and, yes, she grew it into a big business, but after all, that’s what every small-business person strives for, is to make their small business a big business.”

Members of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, many of whom met privately with McMahon prior to the hearing, wanted to know how she’ll help Native Americans and young entrepreneurs, improve federal contracting goals for hiring minority-, veteran- and women-owned small businesses, and help alleviate the burdens of overregulation.

McMahon assured Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoHirono memoir due in 2021 Rand Paul blocks Senate resolution backing protection for whistleblowers Overnight Energy: Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' fix from defense bill | Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group | Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics MORE (D-Hawaii) that she will ask small businesses what specific regulations are hurting them most.

“I don’t know how you change regulations if you can’t identify them,” she said. “I’m committed to doing that for sure.”

She was reluctant, however, to promise Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) that she’d be willing to call for a repeal of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Waters of the United States rule.

In 2014, Rounds said the SBA Office of Advocacy stepped in on behalf of many small businesses and recommended the entire rule be withdrawn.

He asked her directly if she’d send a similar letter about the rule that determines which lakes, rivers, streams and marshes fall under federal jurisdiction. Republicans have railed against it for years, saying it hurts farmers, homebuilders and others.

“I’d like to find the most effective way to put teeth in the Office of Advocacy, and if that’s the best way to do so, I look forward to working with you,” McMahon said.

She told Sen. Joni Earnst (R- Iowa) that she would focus her first few months in office on disaster relief and look for ways to improve program response time.

“Disasters don’t pick a time they happen, and we need to be prepared,” she said.

Drilling down to a specific example, she promised Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week Republicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump Paul's demand to out whistleblower rankles GOP colleagues MORE (R-Fla.) that she would be open-minded about extending disaster relief funds for pandemics such as the Zika virus, which spread through mosquitoes into Florida and other Southern states over the summer.

Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenOn The Money: US paid record .1B in tariffs in September | Dems ramp up oversight of 'opportunity zones' | Judge hints at letting House lawsuit over Trump tax returns proceed Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog slams agency chief after deputy fails to cooperate in probe | Justices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act | Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows Overnight Defense: Trump, Erdogan confirm White House meeting | Public impeachment hearings set for next week | Top defense appropriator retiring MORE (D-N.H.) seized the opportunity Tuesday to question McMahon about previous statements she made in support of merging the SBA with the Department of Commerce.

McMahon clarified her previous remarks, saying she was running for one of Connecticut’s Senate seats at the time and was focused on reducing duplicative programs.

"I am a firm believer SBA needs to be a standalone agency,” she said Tuesday.

Some members couldn’t help but make light of that fact that her son-in-law, Paul Levesque, better known by his ring name Triple H, was at Tuesday’s hearing.

“When your daughter and son-in-law stood up, I just want to say for the record that your daughter looks way more fierce and intimidating than your son-in-law,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said about McMahon's daughter, Stephanie, who was also there, drawing laughs from the crowd.

“Stephanie can give you a mean hip toss,” McMahon noted, while laughing.

McMahon told the Office of Government Ethics earlier this month that she’ll resign from all roles at WWE and her women’s leadership company. She will receive only passive investment incomes from those businesses going forward.

When the McMahons went public with WWE in 1999, the company had $251.5 million in annual revenue and 276 full-time employees. By 2015 it had grown to $659 million in revenue, and as of February 2016 had 840 employees, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

Risch said the committee is hoping to hold a vote on McMahon’s confirmation early next week.

“I think she will be easily confirmed,” he said. “The president made an excellent choice."