By Susan Cornwell and David Lawder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Democrats on Tuesday postponed votes on several of President Donald Trump's Cabinet nominees, citing their responsibility to do a "thorough vetting," while Republicans accused them of unreasonable delays in considering the picks.
Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee exploited Senate rules to delay until Wednesday a vote on Senator Jeff Sessions' nomination to be attorney general. That job was in the spotlight after Trump fired the acting attorney general on Monday over her refusal to defend his executive order blocking nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.
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Democrats also boycotted a meeting of the Senate Finance Committee where votes had been scheduled on Steve Mnuchin to be Treasury secretary and Tom Price to head the Health and Human Services Department. Since at least one Democrat is required to be present for the committee votes to take place, no votes were held.
Despite the delays, all three nominees are considered likely to be confirmed once their names are sent to the full Republican-led Senate.
The White House, as well as Republicans on Capitol Hill, accused Democrats of slow-walking the work of the government. "The people want change. President Trump is delivering that change. And the only response from Senate Democrats so far is to try to stall the core functions of our government," said White House press secretary Sean Spicer.
"When will the Democrats give us our Attorney General and rest of Cabinet!" Trump said in a tweet. "No wonder D.C. doesn't work!"
Senate Democrats were unapologetic, with their leader, Chuck Schumer, saying it was their obligation to "thoroughly vet" Trump's Cabinet nominees. "And if it takes a little longer, they could be in office up to four years, and it makes eminent sense to get their views out," Schumer told reporters.
The Senate has already confirmed several of Trump's picks for national security posts, and the chamber voted 93-6 on Tuesday to confirm Elaine Chao, wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as head of the U.S. Transportation Department.
EXECUTIVE ORDER CONTROVERSY
Sessions' closeness to Trump - he was the first senator to endorse him during Trump's presidential campaign - was clearly working against him as far as Democrats were concerned following several days of controversy over Trump's executive order on immigration.
"We saw last night that it is also the duty of our nation's chief law enforcement officer to support and defend the Constitution when the president's actions do not. The attorney general swears an oath to the Constitution, not to a president," said Senator Dick Durbin, a member of the Judiciary Committee, elaborating on his opposition to Sessions.
The Judiciary Committee rescheduled its vote on Sessions for 10:30 a.m (1530 GMT) on Wednesday.
Democrats on the Finance Committee said they were delaying votes on Price and Mnuchin because they wanted more information on Price's stock trades in an Australian medical company and reports that Mnuchin's former bank, OneWest, used automated "robo-signings" of foreclosure documents, which apparently contradicted statements the nominees had made to senators.
"We've made clear that we need additional information to make these judgments," said Senator Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the committee. It was unclear when the committee votes would be held.
Republican Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Finance Committee, called the Democratic boycott "shocking" and "offensive."
"What's the matter with the other party?" he asked. "Are they that bitter about Donald Trump?"
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and David Lawder; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Peter Cooney)