- Things got heated between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and lawmakers after the Trump appointee signalled he was pressed for time during a congressional hearing on Monday.
- Mnuchin suggested the length of his hearing had exceeded the length of his predecessors’ testimonies.
- Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California, the chairwoman of the Committee, was not having it.
- Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.
Things got heated between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and lawmakers after the Trump appointee signalled he was pressed for time during a House Financial Service Committee hearing on Monday.
The hearing was a chance for Republicans and Democrats to query Mnuchin on the international financial system, and Congress’ requests for President Donald Trump’s tax returns.
“I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but we had an agreement that I was going to leave here at 5:00,” Mnuchin said at the hearing.
Mnuchin claimed the length of his hearing had exceeded the length of his predecessors’ testimonies and stressed he had an important diplomatic meeting with a “very senior person from Bahrain.”
“I have a very significant bilat, it would be embarrassing,” Mnuchin said. “Now I will tell you, in the last six years there has never been a secretary of Treasury who sat for more than three hours and 15 minutes. So, I, as a courtesy, am happy to stay till 5:15.”
“But it would be very embarrassing to a foreign government if this committee expected me to not show up for that meeting,” he said.
Mnuchin added that he would “absolutely” come back for another hearing in May to “make sure the Committee has time to answer all their questions.”
Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California, the chairwoman of the Committee, initially thought Mnuchin said his deadline was 5:30 p.m., not 5:15 p.m.
“So is it possible you can give us another 15 minutes to get to these matters,” she asked.
Mnuchin reiterated that he had to leave but added he would be back for another hearing.
“I have a foreign leader waiting in my office at 5:30, OK,” Mnuchin said to Waters. “I agreed to stay longer. It will be embarrassing if I keep this person waiting for a long period of time.”
“I hope you’ll understand I’m already going to be late,” Mnuchin said as he looked at his watch and tucked some papers into his pocket.
Watch the full exchange between Waters and Mnuchin here:
Waters said she understood Mnuchin’s urgency and asked if he could appear for two more hearings next month.
“I do understand,” Waters said. “We’re late all the time, unfortunately. We are all pressed for time. And I do get it. However, I think I indicated early on that we would request, or require, that you come back at least two more times in the month of May. Is that something you’re agreeing to?”
Mnuchin appeared to take out a list of previous Treasury secretaries and stressed that “there’s never been anybody that’s been here” more than he had.
“No, madam chair,” Mnuchin said. “I find this to be, you know, I have here every single time, Jack Lew, and other people came here.”
“I’ve sat here for over three hours and 15 minutes. I’ve told you I’ll come back. I just don’t believe we’re sitting here negotiating when I come back. We’ll follow up with your office.”
Waters fired back after Mnuchin mentioned his predecessors: “This is a new way, and it’s a new day, and it’s a new chair. And I have the gavel at this point. If you wish to leave, you may.”
After a brief pause, Mnuchin sought clarity on Waters’ offer:
MNUCHIN: Can you clarify that for me?
WATERS: If you wish to leave, you may.
MNUCHIN: OK, so we’re dismissed, is that correct?
WATERS: If you wish to leave, you may leave.
MNUCHIN: I don’t understand what you’re saying.
WATERS: You’re wasting your time. Remember you have a foreign dignitary in your office.
MNUCHIN: I would just say that the previous administration … when the Republicans, they did not treat the secretary of the Treasury this way. So, if this is the way you want to treat me, then I’ll rethink whether I voluntarily come back here to testify, which I’ve offered to do.
Waters said Mnuchin had “acted differently” from his predecessors and suggested he may have violated the Committee’s decorum.
Mnuchin then passive-aggressively threatened to cancel his meeting in order to answer the Committee’s questions:
MNUCHIN: If you’d wish to keep me here so that I don’t have my important meeting, and continue to grill me, then we can do that. I will cancel my meeting and I will not be back here. I will be very clear. If that’s the way you’d like to have this relationship.
WATERS: Thank you. The gentlemen, the secretary, has agreed to stay to hear all of the rest of the members. Please cancel your meeting and respect our time. Who is next on the list?
MNUCHIN: OK, so let’s just be clear to the press. I am cancelling my foreign meeting. You’re instructing me to stay here and I should cancel.
WATERS: No, you just made me an offer.
MNUCHIN: I did not make you an offer. Just, let’s be clear. You’re instructing me. You are ordering me to stay here.
WATERS: No, I’m not ordering you. I’m responding. I said you may leave any time you want. And you said “OK.”
Waters emphasised that Mnuchin was “free to leave any time,” which Mnuchin appeared to be willing to entertain.
MNUCHIN: OK, well then. Please dismiss everybody. I believe you’re supposed to take the [gavel] and bang it. That’s the appropriate …
WATERS: Please do not instruct me as to how I am to conduct this Committee.
After consulting with an adviser, Mnuchin said he would stay until 5:30, despite being “under no obligation to stay.” He added that he would withdraw his offer to come back for another hearing.
“You may choose to do whatever you want,” Waters replied.
After another round of questions from lawmakers, Waters thanked Mnuchin and said she expected him to return at a later date.
“Mr. Secretary, thank you for staying until 5:30,” Waters said. “And I expect the secretary to honour our invitation to return so that the rest of these members will have an opportunity to pursue their questions.”
“Thank you,” Mnuchin replied. “And I look forward to being back in May. We’ll work on a date.”