Health and Human Services Secretary-designate, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga. testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, at his confirmation...
Carolyn Kaster

Trump’s HHS nominee faces fresh controversies ahead of hearing

NYU Professor Paul Light, who has worked on Capitol Hill as an adviser on presidential transitions, told the New York Times the other day that standards for cabinet nominees have clearly changed – and not necessarily for the better.

“There doesn’t seem to be any controversy about things that used to be controversial,” Light lamented. “We’ve lowered the bar in terms of offenses that would have taken out nominees.”

With Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), we’re finding out just how low that bar can go.

The moment the far-right congressman was nominated to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, Price was already controversial. As regular readers know, The Georgia Republican has a radical approach to health policy; he’s associated with fringe elements; and he’s been a staunch critic of evidence-based policymaking.

But complicating matters are a series of new controversies.The Wall Street Journal recently reported, for example, that Price “traded more than $300,000 in shares of health-related companies over the past four years while sponsoring and advocating legislation that potentially could affect those companies’ stocks.” Kaiser Health New added soon after that Price got “a sweetheart deal” on an investment opportunity from a foreign biotech firm. CNN then reported that the congressman bought stock in a medical company, introduced legislation that would benefit that company, and then received a campaign contribution from the company’s PAC.

This morning, CNN moved the ball forward a little more:
On the eve of Price’s second confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill, Senate Finance Committee staff released a bipartisan memo to lawmakers disclosing several red flags that were raised in the course of reviewing the congressman’s tax returns and financial disclosure statements.

The accusations include Price’s alleged failure to disclose late tax payments on rental properties; undervaluing stocks he owns in a pharmaceutical company both to the committee and in his financial disclosure forms; and failure to disclose to the committee that he was previously investigated by an ethics panel for fundraising activities.
This report coincides with a new Wall Street Journal piece that reported, “Three months after investing in four companies with manufacturing plants in Puerto Rico, President Donald Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services secretary introduced legislation that would directly benefit those companies.”

The Washington Post added that Price is now facing increasing scrutiny “for a trifecta of financial, campaign and legislative activities that some longtime ethics lawyers describe as ‘extremely rare’ and revealing ‘an extraordinary lack of good judgment.’”

Richard Painter, who was the chief ethics lawyer in the Bush/Cheney White House, told the Post, “I haven’t seen anything like this before, and I’ve been practicing and teaching about securities law for 30 years.”

What’s less clear is whether Republicans give a darn. There’s been no indication that Donald Trump or his White House team care about the controversies – though, as a result of their weak vetting process, they were blindsided by all of this – and to date, a grand total of zero GOP senators have said they’re inclined to vote against Price’s nomination.

In the not-too-distant past, Price’s nomination would be hanging by a thread. If he’s confirmed anyway, cabinet standards may never be the same.