Over the past few days, Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee have been holding up the nomination process for President Donald Trump’s chosen Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin (as well as Trump’s pick to run the Department of Health and Human Services, Tom Price). In doing so, they’ve been keeping with the populist spirit of the times: Mnuchin ― a well-heeled member of the Wall Street elite ― had, on two important matters, failed to tell the truth during his confirmation hearings.
Democrats wanted Mnuchin to be made to answer for this. The Republicans on the committee had other plans. Chief among them: being invertebrates.
And so it came to pass on Wednesday that Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) suspended Senate rules to allow Mnuchin to pass through the committee process without explaining his deceptions, so as to receive a floor vote instead.
Democrats on the committee had just cause to insist that additional questions needed to be put to Mnuchin. In his testimony to the committee, Mnuchin denied that OneWest Bank ― where he was CEO ― had engaged in the practice of “robo-signing” on mortgage documents. As The Intercept’s David Dayen explained, “Robo-signing is a tactic whereby low-level employees perjure themselves by signing foreclosure documents claiming to verify loan information, without ever reviewing the facts. An employee of OneWest admitted to robo-signing in a 2009 deposition, and the Columbus Dispatch found dozens of robo-signed OneWest documents in Ohio public records.”
It was the Dispatch’s report that led Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown to insist that Mnuchin receive further scrutiny from the committee. “Mnuchin profited off of kicking people out of their homes and then gave false testimony about his bank’s abusive practices,” he said in a statement, adding, “He cannot be trusted to make decisions about policies as personal to working Ohioans as their taxes and retirement.”
On top of that, it came to light in late January that the former Goldman Sachs executive had failed to disclose more than $100 million in assets on the financial disclosure forms that he had submitted to the committee. Mnuchin countered that he had made some “inadvertent mistakes.”
In more innocent times, these sorts of “mistakes” were often enough to scupper a nomination outright. Back in 2009, mistakes of far less magnitude forced President Barack Obama’s selection to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle, to withdraw his nomination amid a tax scandal.
It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that on that occasion, Democrats were the ones offering excuses on Daschle’s behalf. Republicans were picking the worthier fight ― forcing a dedicated Beltway creature to explain why he failed to honor some of his basic obligations.
Where did those folks go? Who replaced them with these responsibility-abdicating chumps? A multi-millionaire walked into their committee room, lied on two occasions (in one instance, a lie about screwing over their constituents), and their response is to deviate from an established norm on the man’s behalf? To suspend the rules for the sake of avoiding further oversight? The entire job of the committee, in this instance, is to do due diligence. If a rule needs to be suspended, it should be in the furtherance of that mission, not in its avoidance.
The demands of Democrats, in this instance, was never something along the lines of, “Send us a new Treasury Secretary nominee.” It was only a desire to perform further inquiry on a would-be Cabinet official whose own actions, in front of the committee, created an immediate and urgent demand for additional questioning. Their Republican colleagues abandoned their posts and degraded their institution in a way that they would almost certainly not have tolerated (at least, one hopes) had the circumstances been reversed.
If there was one clarifying thing about the election we all just endured, it’s that there is a massive desire among the populace for their elected officials to hold elites to account, and from their monopolies of political and economic power, pry loose a sufficient amount of capital to restore the flailing fortunes of middle- and working-class America. Trump is well on his way to breaking his promise to correct this. His Republican legislative colleagues seem bent on ensuring that elites obtain the same rewards they always have, blithely signaling that they want to be lied to.
Credit the Mnuchin boycotters: they seem to be among the few people listening to America.
Jason Linkins edits “Eat the Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.