WASHINGTON - Senate Democrats on Tuesday thwarted a key committee vote over Georgia U.S. Rep. Tom Price's health and human services nomination, a move their GOP colleagues deemed "abysmal" that threw the Roswell Republican's future into limbo.
Democrats boycotted the Senate Finance Committee's 10 a.m. vote on the nominations of Price and Treasury nominee Steve Mnuchin. Without at least one Democratic senator in attendance, Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, was forced to reschedule the votes under the panel's rules.
Democrats said they wanted more time to question the executives of Innate Immunotherapeutics, the Australian biotech company in which Price purchased stock. They cited a Monday report in the Wall Street Journal that suggested the seven-term congressman may have misled senators during his confirmation hearings earlier this month about discounted shares he purchased.
"The evidence is the company is directly contradicting Congressman Price, indicating that he didn't tell the truth and misled Congress and he misled the American people," said Ron Wyden of Oregon, the committee's top Democrat, at an impromptu press conference in the hallway outside the committee hearing room.
"At a minimum I believe the committee should postpone this vote so that we will have an opportunity, and I'd like it to be bipartisan, to talk to the company officials who have made this statement," Wyden said.
The CEO of Innate Immunotherapeutics was critical of the assertions made in the Journal's story, according to CNN. Price previously promised to sell his shares in the biomedical company in order to avoid perceived conflicts of interest as health secretary.
Back in the hearing room, Hatch was visibly furious as he sat in the middle of the near-empty dais. He said he was stunned by the breakdown in Senate decorum since Democrats didn't give him advance notice.
"This is one of the most disappointing days in my 40 years in the United States Senate," he said.
"It really is stupid. Amazingly stupid. I hope they'll get their heads on right and we" can get on with the vote, Hatch continued.
Several GOP senators called Democrats' boycott "unprecedented." However, back in 2013 Republicans skipped out on a similar committee vote for Gina McCarthy, President Barack Obama's then-nominee to lead the EPA. McCarthy was ultimately confirmed in July 2013, four months after she was first tapped to run the agency. (By comparison, it's been nine weeks since Price was nominated to head the Department of Health and Human Services.)
Georgia U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, one of Price's most prominent Senate boosters, said Price deserves an up-or-down vote by the committee. He brought up his own support of Sylvia Burwell, President Barack Obama's most recent health secretary.
"It's a shame that because of partisan politics, which I guess is the reason, that we're not allowed to have a vote on a man who has an outstanding record as a physician, member of Congress, a private citizen of the United States," the three-term Republican said.
Hatch said he would reconvene the hearing as soon as his Democratic colleagues would agree to a vote.
Price and Mnuchin were two of several Donald Trump Cabinet picks whose nominations Democrats tried to delay or muddy over the last 24 hours.
Democrats on their own don't have the votes to sink any of Trump's executive picks, including Price, so delay tactics are some of the only tools of dissent available to them.
The same is true for protecting Obamacare, a key Democratic priority. By delaying a confirmation vote on a health secretary, they in turn can put off GOP plans to dismantle the 2010 law.