After the Senate Finance Committee approved Rep. Tom Price’s nomination sans any Democratic votes, the Georgia Republican’s path to the cabinet is clear due to Sen. Harry Reid’s fateful 2013 decision to invoke the so called “nuclear option.”
Democrats on the Finance Committee attempted to stall Price’s nomination as Secretary of Health and Human Services by refusing to show up for a hearing on the grounds that they had further questions about the congressman’s investments in health care companies. Faced with the Democratic boycott, committee chairman Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch suspended rules to allow the vote to move forward, while typically at least one Democrat would need to be present. The 14 Republicans present voted to send Price’s nomination, along with that of treasury secretary pick Steven Mnuchin, to the Senate floor.
“They on their own accord refused to participate in the exercise,” Hatch said of the Democratic opposition. “They have nobody to blame but themselves.” Hatch told reporters the Senate Parliamentarian approved of the rule change.
The committee’s top Democrat, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, called the proceedings “deeply troubling.”
Historically, presidential cabinet appointees were subject to a filibuster, allowing opponents to force a 60-vote majority for approval, but Senate Democrats’ own rule change during the Obama administration means Price will only need 51 votes to get the job. Former majority leader Sen. Harry Reid famously decided in 2013 to invoke the “nuclear option,” using a simple majority vote to change Senate rules to remove the filibuster option from executive nominees and federal judges for courts below the Supreme Court. Reid made the call in light of Republican opposition to President Obama’s judicial nominees.
With a new administration in town, Senate Democrats are now faced with limited power to influence President Trump’s nominees. The GOP-controlled Senate has free reign to approve Trump’s cabinet appointees, if they garner the full support of the party. (RELATED: Dems To Force Pence Tie Breaker Vote In DeVos Confirmation)
That leaves them with few options for their ongoing opposition to Price’s confirmation. Price purchased shares in Australian biomedical company Innate Immunotherapeutics last year and but denied suggestions from Democrats on the Finance Committee that he received any benefits due to his congressional connections. The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Price’s purchase was a “privileged offer” to buy the stock at a discounted rate; company CEO Simon Wilkinson in turn told CNN the report was untrue, calling it “yellow journalism.”
Trump is open to expanding the nuclear option to get his top picks approved. The president encouraged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to “go nuclear” Wednesday in order to approve Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch if necessary, though Vice President Mike Pence added that he’s hopeful it won’t come to that. (RELATED: Trump Tells McConnell To Go Nuclear Over Democrats)
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