Tuesday morning, three Senate Committees met to vote on whether to report nominations for the attorney general, secretary of health and human services and secretary of education to the Senate floor for a full vote.
The Feminist Majority Foundation joined the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington for a rally outside the Dirksen Senate Office Building to voice opposition to Jeff Sessions prior to the convening of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sessions has not been steadfast in condemning violence against women, voting against the reauthorization and expansion of the Violence Against Women Act to immigrant women, Native American woman and college students. Sessions has called Roe v. Wade a “colossally erroneous” decision and has repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to undermine the right to abortion through legislation, putting him well outside the mainstream, as evidenced by the support he has received from anti-abortion extremist Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue. Sessions has an alarming record on civil rights, calling the Voting Rights Act “intrusive” and minimizing voter suppression tactics in the South. Sessions vigorously opposed the 2009 Hate Crimes Prevention Act, particularly concerning given that the attorney general must sign off on all criminal hate crime prosecutions. Sessions has long associated with advocacy groups that promote anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric, a point of increasing concern given President Trump’s recent “Muslim ban.”
Senators on the Judiciary Committee spoke for hours Tuesday morning, including many Democrats who expressed concern that Sessions would not be willing to stand up to Trump in the face of potentially illegal or unconstitutional executive actions. Democrats eventually used a procedural move to delay the Committee vote until Wednesday, angering many Republicans who accused their colleagues on the other side of the aisle of holding a grudge over the results of the 2016 elections.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions also convened Tuesday morning to vote on reporting Betsy DeVos, nominated for secretary of education, to the full Senate for a confirmation vote. Multiple Committee members voiced concerns over reports from the Washington Post that some of DeVos’ written responses submitted Monday night were not properly sourced, as some answers appeared to share language with an education magazine article and phrases voiced by other federal nominees, in addition to a response that appears to have been pulled verbatim from a 1979 federal statute. After a brief disagreement concerning points of parliamentary order, the Committee voted 12-11 in favor of moving DeVos’ nomination to the Senate floor. While Committee Republicans voted along party lines, Senators Collins and Murkowski made clear that DeVos does not necessarily have their guaranteed support when the full Senate votes on her nomination.
DeVos’ nomination has become one of the most contentious of all of Trump’s cabinet picks. A billionaire philanthropist and former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, DeVos’ only experience in the realm of education has been her advocacy work concerning the Michigan school system, pushing either for public schools to shut down and privatize in the form of charter schools, or offer all parents vouchers to lessen the costs of sending children to private schools. DeVos’ initiative failed to raise the achievement of disadvantaged students or improve the performance of traditional public schools, with results on national reading and math tests plummeting as charter schools expanded. DeVos has been criticized by supporters of charter schools for creating one of the most unregulated charter school markets in the country; the nation’s most successful charter networks refuse to open schools in Michigan because of the instability.
The most contentious Tuesday morning meeting came from the Senate Finance Committee, when Democrats boycotted the vote to move forward the nominations of Tom Price as secretary of health and human services and Steve Mnuchin as secretary of the Treasury, denying the Committee of the required quorum and stopping the vote. Democrats accused Price of misleading the Committee, specifically concerning his denial that he purchased of over 400,000 shares of stock in an Australian pharmaceutical company at a discounted price not available to other investors. Senator Wyden said Tuesday, “I asked Congressman Price directly if he got an exclusive discount on stock in an Australian biomedical firm, and he said no.” Wyden continued, “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.” A Finance Committee background investigation found that Price had undervalued those investments and “claimed income tax deductions that he could not substantiate.”
Price’s questionably unethical healthcare stock trades were a point of contention in both his Finance Committee hearing and his hearing before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, where Senator Murphy made the statement that, “This entire administration is starting to look like a get-rich-quick scheme.” When Senator Warren continuously pressed him on his financial dealings, Price called her line of questioning offensive. The Department that Price seeks to lead manages an annual budget of over $1 trillion, oversees health insurance of more than 100 million Americans, including setting Medicare policies, controls the agencies that regulate food and drugs, and directs funds to biomedical research.
Media Resources: Feminist Majority Foundation 1/6/17, 1/18/17, 1/19/17, 1/25/17; Washington Post 1/31/17; Huffington Post 1/31/17; CNN 1/31/17