WASHINGTON (AP) — Top Senate Democrats said Thursday that the House ethics office should investigate whether stock sales by a congressman who is now one of President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet picks broke any laws.
The Democrats cited a Wall Street Journal report last month that Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., had traded over $300,000 worth of shares in health care companies over the past four years while pushing legislation that might affect those stocks' values. Trump wants Price to head the Department of Health and Human Services,
"Congressman Price had the influence and was actively involved in pushing health care policies while simultaneously making dozens of trades in companies that would be impacted by those policies," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters.
Schumer, along with Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the House's independent Office of Congressional Ethics should conduct an investigation before Senate hearings begin, a process that could last months. Until then, they said, hearings on Price's confirmation should be delayed.
"We don't know if he broke the law. But there are certainly enough serious questions to warrant a serious investigation", Schumer said.
Top Republicans said they saw no reason to slow Price's nomination.
"They just want delay for delay's sake," No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas said in a brief interview.
Price, who has long advocated repealing President Barack Obama's health care law and revamping Medicare, is among eight selections for Trump's administration who Democrats want to examine closely during upcoming hearings.
In a written statement, Trump transition spokesman Phil Blando called the Democrats' demands a "stunt" to distract attention from the failures of Obama's law, which Trump and congressional Republicans plan to repeal this year. He said Price, a surgeon and conservative, is "uniquely qualified" to head the agency.
Blando said Democratic Sens. Tom Carper of Delaware, Mark Warner of Virginia and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island have also traded valuable health-related stocks and said, "Hypocrisy is apparently alive and well this morning in Washington."
Warner spokeswoman Rachel Cohen said an independent trustee manages his investments, while spokesman Richard Davidson said Whitehouse does not direct his trading. Carper said in a written statement that he complies with all financial disclosure requirements and criticism of his actions is "inaccurate and unreasonable."
Democrats spoke to reporters soon after the liberal-leaning Public Citizen sent a letter to the Office of Congressional Ethics requesting an investigation of stock trades by Price and another lawmaker, Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y. The letter cited possible violations of insider trading and conflict of interest laws.
Collins spokesman Michael McAdams said the lawmaker "has followed all ethical guidelines" about personal finances.
As the new Congress convened this week, House Republicans voted initially to gut the Ethics office. Within hours, they reversed themselves under pressure from Trump and others.
The Ethics office receives charges from the public about misconduct by House members and aides. It is governed by an eight-member board whose members cannot include current members of Congress. The office can make recommendations to the House Ethics Committee, composed of House members.