Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday voted 14-0 to advance Rep. Tom Price's (R-Ga.) nomination for HHS secretary after suspending panel rules to thwart a Democratic boycott.
The committee also advanced the nomination of Steven Mnuchin to lead the Treasury Department under the suspended rules.
Procedural maneuver details
Under Senate Finance Committee rules, at least one member from each party must be present for a vote on nominees to occur.
Committee Chair Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) on Tuesday delayed a scheduled vote on Price and Mnuchin after Democrats boycotted the hearing over concerns that Price and Mnuchin had misled Senators during their testimony.
Committee Ranking Member Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said the boycott was partially in response to a Wall Street Journal report published Monday that said "contrary to his congressional testimony this month," Price in June received "a privileged offer to buy [Innate Immunotherapeutics] stock" at a 12 percent discount off the traded price.
Democrats boycotted Wednesday's committee meeting as well. In response, Republicans voted to suspend the rules to permit confirmation votes without Democrats being present, CNN reports.
Hatch on Wednesday said he allowed the procedural maneuver, which was approved by the Senate Parliamentarian, because of the "extraordinary circumstances" surrounding the meeting. Committee Democrats "on their own accord refused to participate in the exercise," Hatch said, adding, "They have nobody to blame but themselves."
Hatch said he did not know when a floor vote would be scheduled on either nominee.
Wyden in a tweet on Wednesday criticized the procedural move, saying, "Today, for the 1st time in history, Senate Finance [Committee] broke the rules to push through, on a partisan basis, 2 nominees who misled the [committee]."
Wyden also took to Twitter to share a copy of a letter Democrats sent to Hatch Wednesday outlining their concerns about Price's nomination and why they did not attend either meeting.
Background on the controversy
Price in his hearings before the Senate Finance and Senate HELP committees said discounts he received on Innate Immunotherapeutics stock "were available to every single individual that was an investor at the time."
However, Innate Immunotherapeutics told the Wall Street Journal that fewer than 20 investors in the United States were invited to purchase the shares at that price. The discounted price was available to all Australia and New Zealand shareholders, but not U.S. shareholders, the company confirmed.
Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), Innate Immunotherapeutics' largest shareholder and a company director, told the Journal the he invited Price to participate in the offering. Price previously said he has purchased shares after discussing the company with Collins.
Following earlier reports of Price purchasing discounted Innate Immunotherapeutics stock, Democratic lawmakers called for an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission into whether Price violated the STOCK Act, which prohibits lawmakers from trading stock based on political insider information.
According to the Journal, a Price spokesperson declined to comment for the story and instead referred to earlier statements in which Price said he disclosed all his trades and had not broken the law.
Price has said he followed the law, and that he would divest his financial interests in 43 companies—including Innate Immunotherapeutics—to avoid conflicts of interest if he is confirmed as HHS secretary (Dopp/Dennis, Bloomberg, 2/1; Puzzanghera, Los Angeles Times, 2/1; Lee, CNN, 2/1; Warmbrodt/Cancryn, Politico, 2/1).
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