In a surprise turn of events, Senate Democrats announced Tuesday morning that they are boycotting a committee vote on two of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees, drawing fury from Republicans across the aisle.
The Senate Finance Committee was set to vote on the nominations of Rep. Tom Price to lead the Department of Health and Human Services and Steve Mnuchin for Treasury Secretary.
But minutes after the vote was scheduled to take place, Democrats on the panel convened an impromptu news conference to announce that they refused to participate in the proceeding, all as their Republican colleagues were waiting in a hearing room down the hallway.
Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee, pointed to what he called “truly alarming news” that surfaced on Monday, referring to a Wall Street Journal Report that said Price had received a special discounted rate of stocks at an Australian pharmaceutical company called Innate Immunotherapeutics.
“This is contrary to congressional testimony he gave. Congressman insisted he didn’t get special access to a special deal,” Wyden said. “He misled the congress and he misled the American people.”
Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown said Price had “outright lied to our committee.”
The CEO of Innate Immunotherapeutics criticized the WSJ story to CNN on Monday, rejecting the story’s claim that Price had received a privileged offering.
Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch had choice words for his colleagues across the aisle, calling their actions “abysmal” and “amazingly stupid.”
“This is the most pathetic thing I’ve seen in my whole time in the United States Senate,” Hatch said. “They ought to be embarrassed.”
Hatch accused Democrats of acting out because they are unhappy with Trump: “What’s the matter with the other party? They’re that bitter about Donald Trump? The answer has to be yes.”
The senator said he fully intends for the committee vote on the two nominees to take place, and that he would call for another mark-up at his convenience.
But the timing remains unclear. The Senate Finance Committee’s rules state that at least one Democrat must be present in order for the panel to take a vote on nominees. That means Democrats can continue to refuse to show up to future committee votes, making it impossible for the panel to consider a nominee.
Asked how Republicans plan to proceed, a committee aide said GOP lawmakers need to explore “next steps.”