Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee forced a delay action that would have moved the nomination of Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) to the Senate floor for consideration, citing ongoing concerns with stock purchases made by Rep. Price.
The vote on Rep. Price’s nomination to serve as secretary of Health and Human Services was scheduled for Jan. 31, but all committee Democrats boycotted the executive session , forcing the delay. Committee rules state that at least 13 members, including at least 1 voting member from the minority party, must be present for a vote to proceed. The 26-member panel is made up of 14 Republicans and 12 Democrats.
At issue is Rep. Price’s purchase of stock in Australian biotech firm Innate Immunotherapeutics via a private placement.
“I asked Congressman Price [at his confirmation hearing] directly if he got an exclusive discount on stock in an Australian biomedical firm, and he said no,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the committee’s leading Democrat, said in a statement. “From the committee’s investigation to company documents to the company official’s own words, the evidence tells a different story. It looks more and more like Congressman Price got special access to a special deal.
“The Finance Committee needs to continue following its bipartisan vetting process that has been upheld for more than 20 years. This is about getting answers to questions, plain and simple. Ethics laws are not optional, and nominees do not have a right to treat disclosures like a shell game,” Sen Wyden said.
At the confirmation hearing, Rep. Price, who is a retired orthopedic surgeon, asserted that he did not violate any ethics laws related to his purchase of Innate stock. He reaffirmed those thoughts in written answers to questions from committee members, stating that throughout “my time as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, I have abided by and adhered to all ethics and conflicts of interest rules applicable to me.”
Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) criticized Democrats for their boycott.
The committee was also scheduled to vote on Steve Mnuchin, President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Treasury. “Assuming that they can’t support these two, then they can vote against them,” Sen. Hatch said during the open session. “That’s what really an honest approach to this matter would be.”
At press time, a vote on Rep. Price has not been rescheduled, but Sen. Hatch noted that “I am hopeful when we schedule this again, they’ll be here.”