The U.S. Senate Monday night confirmed Steve Mnuchin to be Secretary of the Treasury, putting an end to yet another contentious nomination process in the Senate this year.
By a 53-47 vote, the Senate confirmed Mnuchin, the former chairman and chief executive officer of OneWest Bank after a lengthy debate. Democrats were so disturbed by the nomination of Mnuchin and Health and Human Services nominee Tom Price that they boycotted a committee vote on both nominees late last month.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, voted to confirm Mnuchin; Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, did not. One Democrat - Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia - broke ranks to back Mnuchin.
The Senate also voted 100-0 to confirm David Shulkin for secretary of Veterans Affairs.
During days of debate over Mnuchin, Democrats argued that he would dilute and undo the protections that they’d pushed in the aftermath of the financial crisis, arguing that Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs partner, would not represent the best interests of ordinary Americans. They also argued that Mnuchin misled the Senate Finance Committee when he denied that OneWest Bank – known for its aggressive foreclosure practices – used “robo-signing” on mortgage documents. “Robo-signing” is the term for when a mortgage company employee signs hundreds of foreclosures, swearing they have scrutinized the documents as required by law when they have not.
Asked whether his firm participated in the practice, Mnuchin initially wrote that the bank “did not ‘robo-sign’ documents.” He later amended his response, defining “robo-signing” as when a signer of a foreclosure affidavit attested to facts that were not verified to be accurate; or when a signer of a foreclosure affidavit represented himself or herself to be someone else.
Though Mnuchin said his bank never “robo-signed” mortgages, in 2011 he signed a document in which the United States Office of Thrift Supervision found that OneWest had “filed or caused to be filed” potentially false affidavits “not based on such personal knowledge or review of relevant books and records.”
A Columbus Dispatch analysis of nearly four dozen foreclosure cases filed by OneWest in Franklin County in 2010 alone shows that the company frequently used robo-signers. The vast majority of the Columbus-area cases were signed by 11 different people in Travis County, Texas. Those employees called themselves vice presidents, assistant vice presidents, managers and assistant secretaries. In three local cases, a judge dismissed OneWest foreclosure proceedings specifically based on inaccurate robo-signings.
The Dispatch found more than 1,900 OneWest foreclosures in the state’s six largest counties from 2009 to 2015.
OneWest was also found to have participated in the practice in Maine, where a OneWest vice president who admitted in court to robo-signing reportedly signed dozens of mortgage assignments in 2009 and 2010; in western Pennsylvania, where a local TV station found that the bank foreclosed on hundreds of homeowners while Mnuchin was CEO. OneWest cases of foreclosures related to “robo-signing” have also been reported in California, Massachusetts, Nevada, Texas, New Jersey, Washington state and Rhode Island.
“It should be a very grave concern to every Senator that new evidence that One West engaged in illegal robo-signing keeps turning up, even though Mnuchin denied it,” said Lisa Donner, executive director of Americans for Financial Reform. “They should be demanding honest answers, and demand that any candidate for Treasury Secretary demonstrate a commitment to following the law.”
Displaying headlines from the Dispatch on the Senate floor last week, Brown questioned why not one Republican opposed Mnuchin’s nomination, wondering if they refused to oppose Mnuchin because of fear of Donald Trump.
“He lied about something that resulted in people getting evicted, foreclosed on, thrown out of their homes,” he said of Mnuchin, saying his “misconduct caused real serious pain.”
Brown, however, expressed support for VA Secretary Shulkin, saying Shulkin had committed to fight the privatization of the VA health care system. “I trust Dr. Shulkin will work with the Veterans’ Committee and me to do right by our veterans,” he said.
Portman, meanwhile, said he did not believe Mnuchin lied when he maintained his bank had not engaged in “robo-signing.”
“Rob believes his responses were truthful, but that he could have, and should have, provided more information up front to the committee members about this ‘robo-signing’ issue,” said Portman spokesman Kevin Smith. He said Portman believed that Mnuchin was being truthful under the definition of “robo-signing” in his amended answer to the Senate Finance Committee.
Shulkin and Mnuchin represent the ninth and 10th Trump nominees that the Senate has confirmed.
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