- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Democrats launched an all-out assault Tuesday on President Trump’s Cabinet picks, boycotting one committee to block the health and treasury nominees and using arcane rules to force another panel to shut down before it could vote on attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions.

The full Senate did confirm Elaine Chao, wife of the top Republican senator and a former Labor secretary, to run the Transportation Department under Mr. Trump — but spent most of the day erecting roadblocks to other picks.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos cleared the Education Committee on a party-line vote, while former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Mr. Trump’s choice for energy secretary, and Montana Rep. Ryan K. Zinke, tapped to head the Interior Department, were approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Each of them did garner some Democratic support.

But Democrats’ boycott in the Finance Committee derailed planned votes on Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury nominee, and Rep. Tom Price, the Health and Human Services pick.

On Monday night the panel’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden, had signaled he would allow the Mnuchin vote to happen — but when Tuesday dawned, he and his colleagues were nowhere to be seen, which meant the panel didn’t have the quorum needed to do business. At least one Democrat must be present to constitute a quorum for a vote.

“This is one of the most disappointing days in my 40 years in the U.S. Senate,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and chairman of the committee.

Down the hall, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee panel conducted a filibuster of sorts, talking into the afternoon to delay Mr. Sessions’ nomination.

They then triggered a little-used part of Senate rules that prohibits committees from meeting that late in the day, shutting down business before Republicans could call a vote.

“We are being asked to vote on a nominee that will have to stand up to a president who is clearly willing to ignore the law and even issue orders that are in violation of the constitution,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, ranking Democrat on the committee.

She and other Democrats were energized by the actions of former acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates, an Obama administration holdover who Monday night defiantly announced the Justice Department wouldn’t defend Mr. Trump’s new extreme vetting travel policy against a growing number of lawsuits.

Mr. Trump fired Ms. Yates that very evening and installed another acting attorney general, but Democrats demanded to know whether Mr. Sessions would side with Ms. Yates or Mr. Trump in the legal fracas.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said he will vote against all of the nominees until they take a public position on the extreme vetting order, which applies to seven Muslim-majority nations.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Democrats were coming up with new excuses each day for their roadblocks, which he said went way beyond anything done to previous presidents.

More than a week into the new administration, 16 of Mr. Trump’s Cabinet nominees await confirmation. By comparison, President Obama had seven nominees awaiting confirmation in 2009 and President George W. Bush had two in 2001.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the boycott to block votes on Mr. Price and Mr. Mnuchin will come back to haunt Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections.

“The mere idea that they are not even showing up for meetings is outrageous,” Mr. Spicer said. “Voters are going to remember.”

On Capitol Hill Mr. Hatch said Democrats couldn’t “lay a glove” on either nominee during their confirmation hearing, so Democrats should get over their disgust with Mr. Trump and his picks.

Mr. Wyden, however, said his remaining questions were too severe to allow votes.

“This morning the Finance Committee was scheduled to vote on two nominees who have misled the public and held back important information about their backgrounds. Until questions are answered, Democrats believe the committee should not move forward with either nomination,” Mr. Wyden said.

He said Mr. Price wasn’t straight with him about his ability to secure stock in an Australian medical company at a discounted price for select investors, even as he served as a leading health policy guru in Congress.

He couldn’t support Mr. Mnuchin because the nominee publicly denied that OneWest Bank engaged in the “robo-signing” of foreclosure documents under his leadership. Mr. Wyden said court documents and testimony seemed to show otherwise.

Democrats have identified eight of Mr. Trump’s nominees that they have particular objections to — including Ms. DeVos, the education pick.

She cleared on a 12-11 vote as Republicans brushed aside fierce opposition from Democrats and teachers’ unions who say the nominee’s affinity for school-choice programs will come at the expense of public education.

Mr. Perry, the energy nominee, was approved on a 16-7 vote, while Mr. Zinke, the Interior Department pick, cleared committee on a 16-6 vote.

The same panel will vote Wednesday on the nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. He’s also expected to be approved, clearing the way for full Senate votes on Mr. Trump’s full energy and environment team.

The full Senate confirmed Ms. Chao on a 93-6 vote.

S.A. Miller, Andrea Noble and Ben Wolfgang contributed to this report.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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