Senate Republicans ignore Democratic boycott and change rules to push Trump nominees

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When Senate Democrats refused to show up to vote on two of President Donald Trump's cabinet nominees Wednesday, Republicans didn't let that stop them: They just changed the rules. 

The Senate Finance Committee, faced with the second day of a Democratic boycott, took the rare step of suspending the rules to advance the nominations for the proposed Department of Treasury secretary and Department of Health and Human Services secretary, Steve Mnuchin and Tom Price.

With no Democrats in the room for the second day in a row, the GOP members voted 14-0 to allow the nominations to proceed to the full Senate floor.

The rules typically require at least one Democrat to be present for a vote to take place. 

"They on their own accord refused to participate in the exercise. They have nobody to blame but themselves," CNN quoted the head of the committee, Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, as saying of the absent Democrats.

Hatch went on to call Democrats' move "unprecedented obstruction." However his own party used the same boycott tactic in 2013 — when Democrats controlled the Senate — to block one of former President Barack Obama's Environmental Protection Agency nominees. 

Still, Hatch said he'd consulted the Senate parliamentarian before making the unusual legislative move.

Senate Democrats have boycotted Finance Committee meetings to hold up Trump nominees.Source: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Senate Democrats have boycotted Finance Committee meetings to hold up Trump nominees.  Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The committee's ranking Democrat, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, later told MSNBC that "The basic proposition of breaking the rule so that you can, in effect, look the other way in the face of strong evidence of serious ethical problems for two nominees is exceptionally troubling."

Late Wednesday morning, Wyden tweeted to assail the committee and demand more answers about the nominees' backgrounds.

"Today, for the 1st time in history, Senate Finance Cmte broke the rules to push through, on a partisan basis, 2 nominees who misled the Cmte," he tweeted.

"Price's stock trades & the Qs we STILL don't have answers to undermine the belief he can work on behalf of the public interest & not his own," Wyden continued, referring to the Georgian's trading in medical firms that could be affected by his Congressional oversight.

Mnuchin is a second-generation Goldman Sachs man with no previous government experience. His selection by Trump has stirred controversy, in part because a bank he once ran was accused of discriminating against minority homeowners.

Price is a Georgia congressman and former orthopedic surgeon who has been a harsh critic of the Affordable Care Act, which the Trump administration is intent on dismantling.