The Senate is beginning to advance President Donald Trump’s economic team, confirming Steven Mnuchin to serve as Treasury secretary in the new administration.
Senators confirmed Mnuchin late Feb. 13 and were set to consider early Feb. 14 the nomination of Linda McMahon to head the Small Business Administration.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was said to be working to schedule a vote in the coming days on the nomination of Wilbur Ross to be Trump’s secretary of Commerce. Action on other economic team members also is said to be possible before the Senate departs at week’s end for a 10-day break.
Trump now has about half of his Cabinet picks confirmed—several in the last few days, including former Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to serve as attorney general. However, while Sessions rounded out Trump’s national security team none of the president’s picks to help develop economic policy were in place until Mnuchin’s confirmation.
McConnell said he wants to be able to quickly move the rest of the nominees, most of whom have been reported from committee during the past two weeks. But Democrats are continuing to object to fast action on many of them—including Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) to serve as White House budget chief—as they maneuver for more floor time to highlight what they say is a team of billionaires intent on rolling back financial protections for working people and privatizing social programs those people depend on for their health care and retirement. Late Feb. 13, McConnell filed cloture on all of the nominees pending on the Senate's executive calendar to force final votes soon.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor Feb. 13 that Trump used a populist rhetoric to cover up a “hard-right” agenda that could be carried out by a team of billionaires, bankers and ideologues.
“We Democrats in the next several weeks will make clear to the American people as we continue to debate these nominations that what President Trump said on the campaign trail, he is not doing here as president. He’s breaking his promise to the working people of America,” Schumer said.
The vote to confirm Mnuchin came down as expected, with all 52 Republicans, plus one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), voting in favor of the former Goldman Sachs banker and 47 Democrats voting in opposition.
Mnuchin now is expected to be quickly sworn in to office, where he is going to be a leading salesman for the administration’s plans to overhaul the U.S. tax code.
Prior to the vote, however, Democrats said on the floor that they continue to have serious concerns about Mnuchin, who they said profited from the collapse of the housing industry while presiding over OneWest Bank—described as a “foreclosure machine”—and hid his involvement in a Cayman Islands property where they said he helped others hide assets. In extended floor remarks Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said Mnuchin also hid $95 million in properties he didn’t disclose to the Senate Finance Committee and wasn’t fully vetted before his confirmation vote was scheduled.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said the banks once again are going to have the best friend imaginable at Treasury. Durbin said Mnuchin’s top priority will be to roll back the consumer protections in the Dodd-Frank law “and return the barbarians to the gates.”
“Mnuchin’s business record tells us he was directly engaged in the predatory practices that led to our financial recession and destroyed the life savings of countless American working families,” Durbin said. “He’s the wrong man to be America’s Treasury secretary.”
A less-contentious debate, however, was expected early Feb. 14 when the Senate turns to the nomination of McMahon to be SBA administrator. McMahon, the billionaire chief executive officer of World Wrestling Entertainment, was approved in committee after a short hearing and was expected to be easily confirmed after an hour-long debate.
As part of a deal that allowed Mnuchin and McMahon to be put to a final vote, the Senate also late Feb. 13 voted to confirm the nomination of David Shulkin to be secretary of Veterans Affairs. Shulkin is seen as a “holdover” from the Obama administration as he has served there as the undersecretary of health since 2015.
Shulkin’s nomination was approved on a vote of 100-0.
The next steps after McMahon remained unclear. The nominees on whom McConnell filed cloture were Mulvaney, Ross, Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) for Interior secretary, Rick Perry for Energy secretary, Ben Carson to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. McConnell didn't indicate when he would bring any of those nominations up for a vote.
Schumer and other Democrats sharply criticized Trump’s Cabinet picks at a press conference held shortly before the Mnuchin vote where they unveiled a video featuring promises Trump made on the campaign trail to take on Wall Street and protect average Americans.
“We feel we have done the country a service by exposing these nominees for who they are in terms of their conflicts of interest, in terms of their views, which are contrary to what candidate Trump said,” Schumer said.
Schumer said Democrats will continue to insist on “full scrutiny” for the most objectionable nominees but said they might insist on it for others, too. But Schumer said he simply wants Trump to withdraw the nomination of Andrew Puzder, the billionaire chairman of the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurants, to serve as Labor secretary.
Puzder has been criticized for expressing a preference for robots as employees, outsourcing jobs, relying heavily on undocumented immigrants and employing an undocumented immigrant as household help.
“It’s appalling,” Schumer said. “Tonight there’s even consternation on the Republican side about his moving forward and I would urge President Trump to withdraw the nomination of Mr. Puzder.” (See related story in this issue.)
To contact the reporter on this story: Nancy Ognanovich in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com
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