Senators clashed in Steven Mnuchin’s confirmation hearing Thursday even before Donald Trump‘s controversial Treasury secretary pick gave his opening statement.
Mnuchin, 54, is a financier and former finance director for Trump’s presidential campaign. He previously worked as a partner at Goldman Sachs and co-owned OneWest Bank, the former IndyMac that was failing after the mortgage crisis.
During the Senate Finance Committee hearing, Mnuchin defended against Democratic attacks on his history with foreclosures at the lender, tax practices at his hedge fund and the potential for the Trump administration to reduce taxes on the wealthy. Tensions flared among finance committee members even before Mnuchin gave his opening remarks defending his work history.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., joked that he could give ranking member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a Valium so he could deal with the questions.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, fired back at Roberts, saying “I hope that comment about Valium doesn’t set the tone for 2017 in this committee.” He added that “this is just outrageous.”
As the pair bickered, Wyden said that “we have many colleagues waiting.” Roberts responded, “Fine Ron, I’m done” before leaving for an unspecified reason.
In his prepared remarks, Mnuchin attempted to get ahead of Democratic attacks on his record at the lender and in a mortgage role at Goldman. OneWest has been accused of aggressively foreclosing on homeowners.
“Since I was first nominated to serve as Treasury Secretary, I have been maligned as taking advantage of others’ hardships in order to earn a buck. Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.
He also argued that he was not responsible for the risky loan portfolio at the company but simply inherited it. Mnuchin said “the responsibility landed on me to clean up the mess that we inherited.”
“In the press it has been said that I ran a ‘foreclosure machine.’ This is not true. On the contrary, I was committed to loan modifications intended to stop foreclosures,” he said.
In his opening statement, committee chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, pre-empted Democratic jabs, saying Mnuchin had not broken any laws and that other Treasury secretaries have had links to Wall Street and the financial crisis.
In his opening remarks, Wyden argued that it is a “real stretch to find hard evidence” that Mnuchin would be the kind of Treasury secretary “who works for all Americans.”
Mnuchin also said he has worked with the independent government ethics office to address possible conflicts of interest from his holdings.