Senate Democrats boycott, delay committee vote on Mnuchin, Price


 Reuters International

FILE PHOTO: Steven Mnuchin testifies before a Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be Treasury secretary in Washington, U.S., January 19, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

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By Susan Cornwell and David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Democrats on Tuesday boycotted a planned committee vote on two of President Donald Trump's Cabinet nominees, Steve Mnuchin to be Treasury secretary and Tom Price to head the Health and Human Services department, postponing the vote.

At least one Democrat must be present for the committee votes to take place. Democrats said they were delaying because they wanted more information on Price's stock trades in an Australian medical company and reports that Mnuchin's former bank, OneWest, used automated "robo-signings" of foreclosure documents, which apparently contradicted statements the nominees had made to senators.

Republican Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, called the Democratic boycott "shocking" and "offensive."

"They're going to vote no. They've made that very clear," he said to other Republicans on the committee. "I think they ought to stop posturing and acting like idiots. What's the matter with the other party? Are they that bitter about Donald Trump?"

Senator Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the committee, told reporters Democrats were not ready to consider either nominee.

"We've made clear that we need additional information to make these judgements," he said.

It was unclear when the committee votes could be held. But a spokesman for Wyden, Taylor Harvey, indicated it was not the Democrats' intention to leave the two nominees in limbo indefinitely. "Our hope is we can resolve these issues and continue the markup (voting) soon," he said.

The Democrats said they wanted more information about Price and Mnuchin after media reports appeared to contradict statements that they had made in confirmation hearings and subsequent written statements.

In Mnuchin's case, the Columbus Dispatch newspaper cited documents showing that OneWest used automated “robo-signings” - a method for approving mortgage documents that was criticized for not fully considering them - after the former Goldman Sachs executive and OneWest chairman flatly denied those practices to senators.

Wyden said Democrats also wanted more information about a Wall Street Journal article that said Price received a privileged offer to buy a biomedical stock at a discount, contrary to his congressional testimony this month.

Price had testified the discounted shares he bought in Innate Immunotherapeutics Ltd were available to all other investors at the time but the Journal said that in fact he was one of fewer than 20 U.S. investors who were invited last year to buy the discounted shares.

"The company is directly contradicting Congressman Price, indicating he didn’t tell the truth. And he misled the Congress and he misled the American people," Wyden said.

Barney Keller, a spokesman for Mnuchin’s transition, dismissed the Ohio newspaper’s report as "bogus," saying courts had already rejected allegations that a OneWest official’s signings of documents cited in the report were "robo-signings."

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and David Lawder; Editing by Bill Trott and Cynthia Osterman)

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