Senate panel approves Trump nominee under investigation

Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee voted to advance President Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media.

The committee voted 12-10 along party lines to send Michael Pack’s nomination to the full Senate. 

The vote followed a roughly hourlong, at times testy, debate over Pack’s nomination, as well as a more than 20-minute closed session, where the audio feed was cut off so senators could privately discuss his nomination. 

The meeting over Pack’s nomination was expected to be contentious. He is under investigation by the D.C. attorney general’s office for potential misuse of funds from his nonprofit, the Public Media Lab. 

Democrats tried seven times during Thursday’s meeting to delay the vote on Pack’s nomination. Each was defeated on a party line vote. After the seventh, Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), the chairman of the committee, said he would not allow additional attempts to delay the vote, arguing that they had become “dilatory.” 

Risch defended the decision to move forward with Pack’s nomination, saying that he would “stand down” if the U.S. attorney general or the Department of Justice requested it. 

“The hallmarks of this committee have always been civility, kindness, understanding and tolerance and I’d ask us to double down on that hallmark as we go forward with this,” he added, noting that Pack’s nomination had become a “particularly partisan matter.” 

Trump announced in 2018 that he was nominating Pack to lead the agency, which has oversight of Voice of America— a frequent target of the president’s criticism. 

The delay in Pack’s nomination has frustrated the president. During a GOP lunch this week with Senate Republicans, he lamented the pace at which his nominees are being confirmed and specifically pointed to the delay in confirming Pack, who previously served as head of the Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank. 

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) first disclosed last week that Pack was under investigation and that the D.C. attorney general’s office had contacted the committee for documents related to its probe. 

“We are unfortunately being driven apart by your handling of the Michael Pack nomination. Under both Republicans and Democrats, this committee operated under the principle of comity,” Menendez told Risch on Thursday.

“Why are we doing this? Why are we voting on a nominee that has not been honest with the committee?” he continued. 

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) added that she was prepared to vote for Pack until the news that he was under investigation. Democrats had requested Pack to be called back before the committee a second time, but Republicans rejected that request. 

Democrats warned that Republicans were setting potentially consequential precedents with Pack’s nomination, including limiting procedural votes that minority members can force and allowing for a nominee under a criminal investigation to move forward. 

“What is going on here is something more than just filing motions to be dilatory. The reason we’re trying to express our concerns about Michael Pack is we think it is setting a really dangerous precedent for this committee,” Shaheen said.

But Republicans countered that Democrats were forcing procedural votes even though they knew the outcome.

“Comity works both ways, and when people raise the same issue again and again and again with the certain knowledge of the same outcome … it’s clear that the intent is not to engage one another across an aisle looking for a common solution,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). 

Democrats also fumed over the decision to limit virtual access to the business meeting to only audio and not video.

Most committees include a live video feed of their meetings and hearings with the public currently not able to attend because of the coronavirus and restrictions on access to the Capitol. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, even before the coronavirus, did not provide a live stream of its business meetings because of its location in the Capitol, but Thursday’s meeting was held in a different room in a Senate office building.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), the top Democrat on the Rules Committee, said the decision by Risch was “contrary” to guidance from the committee on holding hearings during the coronavirus. 

“Today, Chairman Risch blocked a video livestream of the Foreign Relations Committee meeting, and Ranking Member Menendez was forced to record footage of the meeting with an iPhone. Forcing a Senator to resort to capturing committee proceedings with a homemade video is an embarrassment to the Senate, and should not happen again, or the Rules Committee should take further action,” she said. 

Menendez released video footage of the committee meeting on Thursday night. 

The guidance from the Rules Committee, according to Menendez’s office, said that “a live stream would meet the requirements for a public hearing.”

“We have directed the SAA to provide a solution to the Senate community … that will offer virtual hearings that can be easily viewed by the American public.”

Tags Amy Klobuchar Bob Menendez Donald Trump Jeanne Shaheen Jim Risch Mitt Romney Robert Menendez

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