Republicans got predictably mad at the stall tactic but set another hearing for Wednesday morning, hoping to hold a vote. But Democrats, again, were no-shows. That's when the GOP senators on the committee got creative and made a move that is sure to infuriate the opposition:
“The rules of the Finance Committee require a quorum to conduct any committee business, including the reporting of nominees,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Finance Committee. “Specifically, under Rule 4, to achieve a quorum, one-third of committee members, including at least one member from each party, must be present. However, under Rule 19, the committee may opt to suspend any of its rules at any time.”
Essentially, since no Democrats were present to object, Republicans on the Finance Committee changed the rules temporarily, and approved Mnuchin 14 to zero. It's a move that even Hatch said was “unprecedented.”
“Republicans on this committee showed up to do our jobs,” he said. “Yesterday, rather than accept anything less than their desired outcome, our Democrat colleagues chose to cower in the hallway and hold a press conference.”
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, said that Mnuchin hadn't been fully forthcoming about his business practices while running a mortgage bank that profited after the 2008 housing crisis:
And in an impromptu news conference Tuesday in the hallways of the Capitol, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) took it even farther.
“We have great concern that Senator Hatch is asking us to vote on two nominees today who have out-and-out lied to our committee,” he said.
But Hatch brushed that suggestion off: “It's just another way of roughing up the president and his choice of nominees. We had a full hearing here. I stayed until the last question was asked. I had multiple rounds. They've been treated fairly. We have not been treated fairly.”
When a reporter noted that Democrats requested more information from Mnuchin before holding a vote, Hatch was even more blunt.
“Oh, come on! They had tons of information,” he said. “Much more than the prior two Democrat nominees had given. They don't have one argument that's worthwhile, not one. And if they had, they should have shown up yesterday and made their arguments.”
While Republicans' decision to suspend committee rules and approve Mnuchin without Democrats present is unprecedented, and Democrats are sure to object, it's probably not the last time the GOP will use procedural moves to move nominees through the confirmation process. Democrats have already made it clear they will oppose several more of Trump's nominees, including Betsy DeVos, the nominee for secretary of education, and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, nominee for Environmental Protection Agency administrator.
Hatch insisted Wednesday's move wasn't personal and that he doesn't think his relationship with Democrats on the Finance Committee is permanently damaged. But it's notable because it sets the stage for this to become a regular move — one that takes away one of the few remaining bits of real power Democrats have left, the ability to slow presidential nominees. It could be a bellwether of an even more partisan Congress than we've seen in the past — one in which precedent, and even long-established rules, are turned on their heads.