As protesters agitated outside a Capitol Hill hearing room, Democratic Senators on Tuesday boycotted what was supposed to be a confirmation vote and proceeding to consider President Trump's Treasury Secretary pick, Steven Mnuchin, and his Health Secretary choice, Tom Price.
"This is the most pathetic thing I've seen in my whole time in the Senate," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "After the stunt that was pulled last night they ought to be embarrassed not to come."
A vote on the two candidates had originally been planned for Monday evening. However, Democratic senators on the committee said they had asked to postpone the vote on Mnuchin so they could attend a candlelight vigil that evening to protest an executive order signed Friday that banned certain immigrants and refugees from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S. for a period of time. The non-show also comes as tensions have flared after Trump dismissed Acting Attorney General Sally Yates for refusing to back the executive order.
On Tuesday none of the twelve Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee showed up for a 10 a.m. vote and proceeding set up to allow lawmakers to express their support or opposition to the two candidates.
Hatch and a few other Republican lawmakers sat on a mostly empty dais and expressed outrage over the Democratic boycott, arguing that the Democrats were really taking out their concerns about President Trump. Hatch said the Democratic senators know Price well and they recognize that Mnuchin is a "really terrific candidate" for Treasury Secretary, "one of the best we've ever had."
Hatch added that Price is a man of "integrity" and that at the very least Democrats should show up and vote against the two candidates.
Sen. Toomey, R-Penn., said he shared Hatch's "dismay and disgust," noting that he voted to support the Obama administration pick of Jacob Lew for Treasury Secretary because "the President deserves to have his team."
A number of Democrats had indicated in prepared statements that they were going to vote against Mnuchin's confirmation over their worries that he would dismantle the post-2008 crisis response Dodd-Frank Act and over concerns that he played a central role in a scandal involving robo-signing foreclosure documents.
At the hearing, Democrats were expected to focus much of their criticism of Mnuchin on OneWest, a mortgage lender he headed during the financial crisis that faced allegations of questionable practices and foreclosed on thousands of homes.
Mnuchin in 2009 led a group of investors that bought embattled mortgage lender IndyMac from the government for $1.6 billion. They renamed it OneWest. OneWest was sold to CIT Group (CIT) - Get Report in 2015 for $3.4 billion. Bloomberg estimates Mnuchin may have made $380 million on the deal.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and the highest ranking Democrat on the panel, said in a statement that he opposed Mnuchin's confirmation, arguing that OneWest, under Mnuchin's leadership, engaged in so-called "robo-signing" foreclosure documents, which is the practice of assigning bank employees to rapidly approve numerous foreclosures with only cursory glances at the glut of paperwork to determine if all the documents are in order. Wyden also cited a OneWest vice president, under Mnuchin, that admitted to "robo-signing" 750 foreclosure documents a week.
"Court documents and testimony show that OneWest employees processed hundreds of documents a week, spending only seconds on each, and they routinely did so without verifying their contents," Wyden said.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said in a statement that he opposed Mnuchin because he was concerned that the candidate wouldn't enforce Dodd-Frank, which was written in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. "I also am not convinced that he is committed to robust enforcement of Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms, which are intended to protect taxpayers from the sort of irresponsible behavior that triggered the 2008 financial crisis," Warner said.
Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, said in a statement that he opposed Mnuchin, arguing he has "cozy ties" to Wall Street. In addition to being a former CEO of OneWest Bank, Mnuchin is also an ex-partner at Goldman Sachs(GS) - Get Report and a former Hollywood movie producer.
Democrats were also expected to vote against Price for a variety reasons. A few, including Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., had argued previously that Price was able to buy shares in some companies at prices lower than those available on public markets.
It's unclear when Hatch would be able to reschedule the confirmation vote, which comes after President Trump said Monday his administration will do a "big number" on Dodd-Frank's financial reforms as he signed an executive order to roll back regulations. The executive order seeks to reduce the regulatory burden on small and large businesses by eliminating two orders for every one new regulation.
However, Jaret Seiberg, analyst at Cowen Washington Research Group, suggested in a note that he was cautious about how much banks will benefit from the new regulatory standard, adding that he has trouble seeing President Trump exposing himself to charges that he is "doing the bidding of the Wall Street banks."
Nevertheless, Mnuchin is expected to eventually be confirmed by the Senate Finance Committee. Once approved, he will be considered by the full Senate, where more Democratic opposition is expected. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Monday he plans to vote against five Trump nominees, including Mnuchin and Price, the candidate to run Health and Human Services. However, Republicans will likely employ a parliamentary procedure to bypass Democratic opposition so that the candidates could get confirmed by a simple majority of the Senate.