The Senate Finance Committee confirmed U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) to head the Health & Humans Services Dept., despite Democrats boycotting the meeting. Republicans on the panel suspended the rule that required at least 1 Democrat to be present and sent the nominee to the Senate floor, where he is likely to be confirmed.
The committee also confirmed banker Steven Mnuchin as Treasury secretary.
“We took some unprecedented action today due to some unprecedented obstruction on the part of our colleagues,” the panel’s chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), said according to Reuters.
Democrats stayed away from the meeting for the 2 day in a row – earlier this week, they said they would boycott the Finance Committee proceedings over concerns regarding Price’s stock trades in an Australian medical company. They also expressed concerns after learning that Mnuchin’s former bank, OneWest, used “robo-signings” of foreclosure documents. Democrats argued that this contradicted statements that both nominees have made to senators and that they need more information before making a vote.
“It’s deeply troubling to me that Republicans on the Finance Committee chose to break the rules in the face of strong evidence of two nominees’ serious ethical problems,” ranking member Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), said in a statement.
But Republicans maintained that the committee’s Democrats had enough information to vote and accused them of deliberately delaying the new administration’s nominees. “They [the Democrats] had tons of information [about Price and Mnuchin],” Hatch said. “It’s another way of roughing up the president and his choice of nominees.”
Price is a physician, chairman of the House budget committee, a member of the House Ways & Means panel and an active investor. After he was nominated as HHS chief, he drew scrutiny for the timing of some of his investments – he bought shares in Zimmer Biomet (NYSE:ZBH) days before introducing a bill to delay a program that was designed to change the way large joint implants are paid for.
After the vote, the company’s political action committee donated to Price’s re-election campaign.
The administration claims that a broker made stock purchases for the Senator without his knowledge. Price pledged to divest all healthcare-related stocks, including his stake in Zimmer Biomet, if he is confirmed as HHS secretary.
Price appeared to be in more hot water last week after a Wall Street Journal report showed that Price was 1 of fewer than 20 U.S. investors invited to buy discounted shares into Australian medical company Innate Immunotherapeutics. Previously, Price testified that the shares were “available to every single individual that was an investor at the time.”
Material from Reuters was used in this report.