WASHINGTON ― Senate Democrats aim to stall the confirmation of Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) as health and human services secretary until the House Office of Congressional Ethics has reviewed his trading in health care stocks during his tenure as a member of Congress, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday.
The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics on Thursday to begin the formal process of requesting an investigation. The organization also requested the Securities and Exchange Commission look into Price’s investments. Schumer said he has “no qualms” about the SEC also probing Price’s trades.
“Congressman Price had the influence and was actively involved in pushing health care policies while simultaneously making dozens of trades in companies that would be impacted by those policies,” Schumer said at a press conference.
“We don’t know if he broke the law, but there are certainly enough serious questions to warrant a serious investigation before any hearing is held on Congressman Price to become secretary of HHS.”
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has scheduled a hearing on Price for Jan. 18.
The attack on President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to run the department that manages Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act health insurance exchanges and other programs follows a Wall Street Journal report last month on stocks owned and traded by Price, a physician and six-term House member.
Price executed more than $300,000 in trades of health care companies affected by legislation he worked on or voted on over the past four years, a Journal public records review found. As secretary of health and human services, Price would regulate drugmakers, health insurers, hospitals and virtually every other player in the health care system.
Members of Congress are permitted to trade stocks in individual companies so long as they disclose their investments under the terms of the STOCK Act, which Price did, according to the news outlet. That same law, however, prohibits lawmakers to make investment decisions based on inside information they obtain in the course of their duties.
Trump’s transition team reacted to Schumer’s statements by arguing that Price isn’t the only member of Congress who deals in the stock market.
“Hypocrisy is apparently alive and well this morning in Washington,” transition spokesman Philip Blando wrote in an email.
The same questions that Schumer had raised about Price should be directed to Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), “who own and have traded hundreds of thousands of dollars in pharmaceutical and health insurance company stocks,” Blando continued. “The reality is that Dr. Price’s 20-year career as an orthopedic surgeon and a fiscal conservative make him uniquely qualified to lead HHS.”
Blando also provided The Huffington Post with a document listing health care stocks owned or traded by Carper, Warner and Whitehouse.
The senators were quick to defend themselves. Warner spokeswoman Rachel Cohen said the senator’s investments are managed by an independent trustee and have been since before he became governor of Virginia in 2002.
Whitehouse spokesman Rich Davidson said, “Sen. Whitehouse has made clear that he does not direct his trading and independent fact-checkers have ruled similar claims to be completely false. The Trump transition is looking for any excuse to distract the American people from its nominees’ records, including hinting at debunked claims and baseless accusations.”
Carper said in a statement that he has made his investments public for decades, and insisted Price’s should be.
“I believe strongly that we should scrutinize and evaluate every one of President-elect Trump’s cabinet selections on their records and their fitness to serve in the posts to which they’ve been nominated,” Carper said. “Regarding investments that belong to my wife and me, I have been a public servant for more than three decades and have always submitted thorough financial disclosures about my family’s income and holdings. I have always complied with every requirement and regulation as part of my duty as a representative of the people of Delaware, and any attempt to cast a shadow of impropriety on our financial decisions is inaccurate and unreasonable.”
Republicans backed off their crusade against ethics, for now. But it begged the question: Who were they trying to protect? Sen. Chuck Schumer
Going after Price based on his investments not only serves as a means for Senate Democrats to resist a Cabinet choice they oppose on policy grounds, it also fits into two broader strategies the minority party is employing to fight the GOP leadership and Trump.
Democrats seek to make hay out of the snafu that erupted Tuesday when Republicans attempted and then backed off plans to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics.
Concerns about ethics also tie into the larger effort to highlight Trump’s own conflicts of interest and those related to his other picks for high-ranking administration positions, including ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state.
“Republicans backed off their crusade against ethics, for now. But it begged the question: Who were they trying to protect?” Schumer said. “We also have a series of questions that we’ll demand that Congressman Price or the OCE must answer before any hearings on this Price nomination can begin, all related to this issue.”
Schumer also made clear that Democrats view their calls for more scrutiny into Price’s finances are just one part of his caucus’ bid to slow down Senate approval of several of individuals Trump will nominate to leadership positions.
“Every one of these nominations deserves a full, thorough hearing after filing all the necessary documents. Almost none of them ― a very small number ― have even filed the necessary documents,” Schumer said. “If it takes a while, then Congressman Price’s nomination should wait a while.”
The story has been updated with comment from Sen. Tom Carper, as well as from representatives for Sens. Mark Warner and Sheldon Whitehouse.