February 03, 2017

Prices HHS Nomination Advances Despite Theatrics

Senate Finance Committee Republicans officially advanced the nomination of Rep. Tom Price, MD, (R-GA) as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Feb. 1 despite a boycott of Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 confirmation votes by all Democratic senators on the committee.

Without giving any advance notice to the Republicans, Democrats boycotted the initial confirmation vote following the release of a Wall Street Journal article that contradicted Price’s previous testimony regarding the purchase of stocks from Innate Immunotherapeutics Ltd., an Australian biotech company. The article reported that Price received a discount on the price of stock, a claim Price repeatedly denied in his testimony.

Senate Finance Democrats initially exploited a parliamentary maneuver that requires at least one member of the minority party to be present during a committee confirmation vote. Without at least one Democrat in attendance, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) was prevented from calling the vote.

Claiming potential legal and ethical violations from the stock trade, Democrats asked that Price’s confirmation vote be postponed indefinitely to allow for more time to investigate the secretary-designee. Some Senate Finance Committee Democrats even favored a new round of confirmation hearings.

Refusing to bow to minority party demands, Hatch convened another confirmation vote on Feb. 1. Senate Democrats again boycotted the scheduled vote but their refusal to attend this hearing backfired. Because no Democrats were present, Republicans used the parliamentary maneuver of “unanimous consent” to change the quorum rules pertaining to votes on presidential cabinet nominees. Because no Democrats were present to verbally block the rule change, it passed easily, thus allowing Senate Finance Committee Republicans to confirm Price by a vote of 14-0.

Their approval clears the way for Price’s confirmation by the full Senate in the near future.

ACR members are encouraged to monitor the Advocacy in Action eNews for the latest news about the pending HHS secretary nomination.