In an unprecedented, dramatic step, the Senate Finance Committee this morning suspended its rules and voted without Democrats present to send Tom Price's nomination as head of the Department of Health and Human Services to the Senate floor.
The quickly scheduled meeting today took place less than 24 hours after Democrats managed to postpone a planned vote by boycotting the meeting. Under the committee rules, 13 members—including at least one Democrat—must be present for the vote.
Republicans were furious, calling the boycott “amazingly stupid” and “pathetic.” But Democrats said they wanted more information before they vote in light of a new report this week in The Wall Street Journal that Price received a special discounted offer to buy stock in a biomedical company, which contradicted his testimony during congressional hearings.
Rep. Price, R-Ga., an orthopedic surgeon, has served as a member of the House of Representatives for seven terms. But despite his ties to Congress and his medical background, President Donald Trump's pick to lead HHS has been controversial from the beginning due to Price's support for dismantling the Affordable Care Act.
But Democrats also raised ethical and conflict-of-interest concerns over reports of insider trading and purchase of thousands of dollars in stock in healthcare, pharmaceutical and biomedical companies while sponsoring legislation that could have influenced those companies’ shares.
The Senate Finance Committee’s ranking member, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), said in a prepared statement Tuesday following the boycott that he “asked Congressman Price directly if he got an exclusive discount on stock in an Australian biomedical firm, and he said no. From the committee’s investigation to company documents to the company officials’ own words, the evidence tells a different story. It looks more and more like Congressman Price got special access to a special deal.”
He called on the Finance Committee to continue the bipartisan vetting process that it has followed for more than 20 years. "This is about getting answers to questions, plain and simple. Ethics laws are not optional, and nominees do not have a right to treat disclosure like a shell game,” he said.
But on Wednesday morning Chairman Orrin Hatch called for another meeting and when Democrats didn’t show up, Republicans changed the rules so the committee could allow a vote to go ahead without them, AJC.com reported.
Republicans voted 14-0 to advance Price’s nomination to the full Senate.