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Senate Republicans change rules, unanimously approve Trump nominees without Democrats

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

It looks like the Democrats' decision to boycott the Senate Finance Committee's confirmation hearings for two of President Donald Trump's Cabinet appointees has backfired.

Republican senators on the Finance Committee — the panel that oversees the nominations of former Goldman Sachs partner Steven Mnuchin for treasury secretary and Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) for secretary of health and human services — convened for the second day without any Democrats present.

Traditionally, committee rules require at least one Democrat be present to establish a quorum. But, in what Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) described as "extraordinary circumstances," the Senate Republicans voted Wednesday to suspend the committee's rules.

On Tuesday, Democrats stalled proceedings by choosing not to show up, bringing Price and Mnuchin's nominations to a halt. So on Wednesday, with suspended rules, the committee's 14 Republicans voted successfully to move both Trump nominees to the full Senate without any of the panel's 12 Democrats present.

"[Democrats], on their own accord, refused to participate in the exercise," Hatch said, according to CNN. "They have nobody to blame but themselves."

Hatch said the decision was approved by the Senate Parliamentarian and told reporters that the move was "just utilization" of the rules, adding that he "wouldn't have done it" had the Parliamentarian not expressed approval.

The committee chairman said he had not spoken to ranking Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), about the decision. "I don't feel a bit sorry for them," he said.

Though Democrats argued they had unanswered questions for both Mnuchin and Price, it is unlikely Republicans will cooperate now that both nominees have gone on to the full Senate. In fact, Hatch said Wednesday morning, "I don't care what they want at this point," CNN reported.

Despite Wednesday's headline-making decision, Democrats are sticking with the boycotting tactic. CNN's Phil Mattingly reported that Senate Democrats are boycotting the vote on Scott Pruitt, Trump's nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

However, multiple Trump nominations still coming down the pike, the Finance Committee's bold move could set a new precedent for how Republicans deal with Democratic obstructionism. As the rules exist currently, Trump's Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch, the highest-profile nomination so far, requires 60 Senate votes to be confirmed.

One last thing…
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