(Bloomberg) — Senate Republicans brushed aside a boycott from angry Democrats and took emergency steps Wednesday to advance the nominations of Steven Mnuchin to run the U.S. Treasury Department and Tom Price to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Judiciary Committee separately approved the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions to be attorney general on Wednesday in a straight party-line 11-9 vote, one day after Democrats forced a delay by making lengthy speeches blasting Trump for his executive actions on immigration and questioning Sessions’s independence.
The steps move the three men a step closer to confirmation, as Democrats intensify their offensive against several of President Donald Trump’s nominees. At the same time, Democrats stalled committee votes on two other nominees Wednesday — Scott Pruitt to run the Environmental Protection Agency and Rep. Mick Mulvaney to head the Office of Management and Budget.
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Even so, Senate rules leave the minority party with no ability to block the nominees, as long as Republicans remain united in support of Trump’s picks.
Overall, Trump is making slow progress in stocking his cabinet. The full Senate is scheduled to vote Wednesday afternoon to confirm former Exxon Mobil Corp. chief Rex Tillerson as secretary of State.
But the drama at several committees shows rising frustration on both sides about the handling of the confirmation process.
Without any Democrats present, the Senate Finance Committee moved Wednesday to report Mnuchin and Price to the floor on 14-0 votes, after voting to suspend the panel’s rules.
The action came one day after Democrats forced a delay on scheduled votes by skipping the committee’s meeting and denying it a quorum. Democrats said they need more time to scrutinize Trump’s picks, particularly after the president’s controversial executive action on immigration.
Chairman Orrin Hatch defended his decision to take emergency measures to push the nominations forward.
“I don’t care what they do, but the parliamentarian said this is a proper decision.” he told reporters after the votes.
Democrats “didn’t even have the courtesy to tell me they weren’t going to show up yesterday and were holding press conferences out there without even talking to me. So I don’t feel a bit sorry for them,” Hatch said. “I don’t care what they want at this point. They’ve proven that they don’t act in good faith.”
Ron Wyden, the panel’s ranking Democrat, blasted Republicans for pushing the nominees through with Democrats still waiting for answers to questions about potential ethics issues.
“Today, for the first time in history, the Senate Finance Committee broke the rules to push through on a partisan basis two nominees,” he said. “Boycotts of committee meetings are not unheard of – my Republican colleagues, led by Chairman Hatch, took such a step just a few years ago.”
Hatch told reporters afterward he didn’t know when Mnuchin and Price would receive floor votes.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday morning that Democrats couldn’t do anything to stop Trump’s nominees.