Story highlights

McCain provided his GOP colleagues a crucial vote to move the nomination, despite "concerns"

Both votes were along party lines

Washington CNN —  

President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the director of the Office of Management and Budget cleared a procedural hurdle Thursday, despite one prominent Republican still expressing concerns.

South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney’s nomination was moved to the floor on two strictly party line votes by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and Senate Budget Committee.

In the first vote, before the Homeland Security committee, Arizona Sen. John McCain provided his GOP colleagues a crucial eighth vote to move the nomination, though he said he still has “concerns” about Mulvaney.

“I do believe the full Senate should have the opportunity to consider Congressman Mulvaney’s nomination,” McCain said at the outset of the hearing. “Given Congressman Muvalney’s record on defense spending, including his vote to withdraw all forces from Afghanistan, I continue to have concerns about his nominations to be OMB director. However, I will continue to weigh all the facts as the Senate considers Congressman Mulvaney’s nomination.”

McCain engaged Mulvaney in tense questioning at his confirmation hearing, peppering him with questions about his repeated support of cuts to defense spending and calling his vote on Afghanistan “crazy.”

Even if McCain ultimately voted against Mulvaney, Republicans would still have the votes to confirm him if the rest of the caucus supports him, or if any Democrats break ranks. So far, no Republicans have indicated they share McCain’s concerns.

Key to winning McCain’s support on the committee, it seemed, was a decision to vote on whether to report Mulvaney to the floor without issuing a recommendation. Typically committees vote a nominee out to the floor “favorably” or “unfavorably.”

White House budget pick took hard stance on taxes in the past

Top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Claire McCaskill, clarified after McCain’s remarks that the committee’s plan was to not issue a recommendation.

The Budget Committee, on a strict 12-11 party-line vote, did advance Mulvaney with a recommendation for confirmation.

Democrats on the both committees all voted against Mulvaney – with the ones speaking at the Homeland panel citing especially the government shutdown in 2013. Democrats blamed that shutdown on a group of House conservatives Mulvaney belonged to that engaged in hard-line tactics in negotiations, generating a stalemate in spending debates.

“I want somebody at OMB that understands that brinkmanship is not how we do a budget around here,” McCaskill said.

Some Republicans on the committee intervened on Mulvaney’s behalf, with Chairman Ron Johnson saying no one voted for a shutdown – though others, including McCain, noted what a “disaster” the shutdown was.

“He is very passionate about trying to solve the problem,” Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford said of Mulvaney in his defense, though Lankford opposes shutdowns. “He’s not just a person that is trying to make a point, he really is trying to solve the problem.”

Democrats also cited Mulvaney’s pursuit of entitlement reform – saying his efforts to change retirement age and cut back programs like Social Security and Medicaid would leave vulnerable Americans in the lurch.

Democrats face their powerlessness

That was a key focus of Budget ranking member Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“We have a nominee whose ideology is in direct contrast to what President Trump ran on. President Trump told working people and seniors he would not cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid,” Sanders said. “Yet you have a nominee who prides himself, who is a deficit hawk, who has said over and over again that he will do exactly the opposite of what President Trump campaigned on.”

Sanders also noted that in his questionnaire from the committee, Mulvaney disclosed he had failed to pay taxes on a babysitter for his newborn triplets, for which he paid more than $15,000 in back taxes and was still figuring out penalties. Sanders quoted Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in saying similar issues had forced nominees to withdraw in the past.

“This is a very serious issue,” Sanders said.

Chairman Mike Enzi noted that former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was confirmed after a tax issue.

’We need the OMB director confirmed as quickly as possible so the administration can confront these hard fiscal realities and figure out how to solve them,” Enzi said.