As Treasury nominee Mnuchin defends record, Perry says his attitude on Energy has changed
JUDY WOODRUFF: The president-elect moved a bit closer to getting his Cabinet in place with another round of confirmation hearings today.
The most contentious was for his treasury secretary pick, Steven Mnuchin, a billionaire banker who worked at Goldman Sachs and owned a hedge fund. There was important news that came out during the hearing. Mnuchin said that he would support raising the debt ceiling sooner rather than later, and not risk the country defaulting.
The president-elect had previously suggested that he might want to renegotiate the government's obligations instead. But most of the focus was on Mnuchin's business background and investments.
Lisa Desjardins has our report.
LISA DESJARDINS: He came prepared for a broadside attack.
STEVEN MNUCHIN, Treasury Secretary Nominee: I have been maligned as taking advantage of others' hardships in order to earn a buck. Nothing could be further than the truth.
LISA DESJARDINS: Steven Mnuchin began his appeal to become treasury secretary by defending his record at the helm of OneWest, a bank that Democratic critics say was a foreclosure machine during the housing crisis.
STEVEN MNUCHIN: OneWest extended over 100,000 loan modifications to delinquent borrowers to try to help them out of a bad situation.
LISA DESJARDINS: But Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden disputed Mnuchin's version.
SEN. RON WYDEN, D-Ore.: Investigations found that the bank frequently mishandled documents and skipped over reviewing them. All it took to plunge families into the nightmare of potentially losing their home was 30 seconds of sloppy paperwork and a few haphazard signatures.
LISA DESJARDINS: It was some of the most dogged questioning of President-elect Trump's nominees yet, and it was tense between senators.
SEN. PAT ROBERTS, R-Kan.: Sen. Wyden, I have got a Valium pill you might want to take before the second round,
SEN. SHERROD BROWN, D-Ohio: Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman, I hope that that comment about Valium doesn't set the tone for 2017 in this committee.
LISA DESJARDINS: Wyden also pressed Mnuchin about reports that he initially didn't reveal more than $100 million of assets on disclosure forms and that he left out his role directing some offshore accounts.
SEN. RON WYDEN: How many employees did you have in Anguilla?
STEVEN MNUCHIN: We didn't have any employees in Anguilla.
SEN. RON WYDEN: How many customers did you have there?
STEVEN MNUCHIN: We didn't have any customers that resided in Anguilla.
SEN. RON WYDEN: Did you have an office there?
STEVEN MNUCHIN: We didn't have a office ourselves there.
SEN. RON WYDEN: So you just had a post office box?
STEVEN MNUCHIN: I would diligently look at these things, and I can assure you I paid all my taxes as was required.
LISA DESJARDINS: New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez dug in.
SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ, D-N.J.: One doesn't go and create offshore entities at the end of the day, other than to avoid, in some form or fashion, the tax laws of the United States. That's pretty simple.
LISA DESJARDINS: But Mnuchin surprised some, saying that he agrees that offshore accounts are a problem he wants to fix.
STEVEN MNUCHIN: Well, first of all, I'm absolutely committed to work with you and your office, as I have said, on tax simplification and to cut down and make sure that we don't let anybody avoid taxes. I would be happy to work with your office to simplify the tax code.
LISA DESJARDINS: Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch called Democrats' focus on those offshore accounts hypocritical and ironic.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH, R-Utah: Evidently, memories are short. At least two of President Obama's nominees who now sit in his Cabinet had Cayman Island holdings.
LISA DESJARDINS: Democrats returned to Mnuchin's role with OneWest back in 2009. According to an independent California housing organization, OneWest aggressively foreclosed on some 60,000 homes while Mnuchin ran it. Also this fall, two advocacy groups asked the Department of Housing and Urban Development to investigate possible discrimination, charging that OneWest offered fewer mortgages and options to minorities.
Mnuchin sold that bank for $3.4 billion in 2015 and has denied anything improper. He told the committee it wasn't just about profit, but saving a dying bank.
STEVEN MNUCHIN: Overall, I helped many homeowners stay in their homes and escape financial ruin through my management of OneWest Bank. My experience confirms that we must identify and eliminate unwise and burdensome policies which contributed to the disastrous outcomes that came in the wake of the financial collapse.
LISA DESJARDINS: At one point, the treasury nominee also pushed back at Democrats.
STEVEN MNUCHIN: It seems to me, in all due respect, you just want to shoot questions at me and not let you…
SEN. SHERROD BROWN: I will let you explain when I'm done.
STEVEN MNUCHIN: Let people at least understand these are complicated questions.
SEN. SHERROD BROWN: They are complicated.
LISA DESJARDINS: As the top economic official, there was plenty of policy talk, too. Mnuchin said he would enforce current Russian sanctions and would keep the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, though he questioned its funding source.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And Lisa joins me now.
So, Lisa, you were there for the hours of this hearing. Did you come away with a particular impression of Steven Mnuchin?
LISA DESJARDINS: As you saw, I had a good seat.
And I have to say, I think what he was trying to telegraph to the committee that he is more moderate than his opponents are casting him. Now, we have to see what he does if he's confirmed as secretary, but things like the CFPB, saying that he would keep that, and he also said things like, I want to increase the staff at the IRS.
These are things conservatives have traditionally gone after, and he's said to this committee, I'm going to be more reasonable. He used those words.
JUDY WOODRUFF: CFPB being the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
LISA DESJARDINS: Financial Protection Bureau.
JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to ask you about the status of one of the president-elect's other nominees to be the budget director, Mick Mulvaney, the congressman from South Carolina. He has run into some problems over an employee of his family.
LISA DESJARDINS: That's correct. That's right.
He told the Senate about a month ago that he found out a caregiver for his children who worked for him for a few years, he didn't pay taxes for that person. And he's now paying those back taxes, but it seems that this might really be a problem. And the reason I think so is that we haven't seen statements from leading Republicans supporting him today.
And I spoke to another Republican senator, Judy, who says there's another issue. They're concerned because Mulvaney in the past has asked to cut defense spending in a way that Republicans don't like.
So, it will come down to his hearing next week.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, now, one other thing I want to ask you about. We know that Republicans want as many of these nominees confirmed as soon as possible.
Democrats are not in the majority, but they have the ability to slow them down, and that's what they're doing.
LISA DESJARDINS: You heard that from Chuck Schumer in John's report earlier. That's right.
Democrats said today they are going to allow two nominees to be confirmed tomorrow on Inauguration Day.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Just two?
LISA DESJARDINS: Just two, in the evening.
Those are the defense secretary, James Mattis, and also Department of Homeland Security Secretary John — I'm sorry — John Kelly. The two Marine Corps generals are going to be confirmed, but not necessarily Mike Pompeo.
Sen. Ron Wyden has an objection to the CIA director-designate. That's a real concern for Republicans. They say that's a security risk. It might be a political risk for Democrats. They say Pompeo is likely to be confirmed soon, but it doesn't look like tomorrow.
As for the rest of these nominees, Democrats say they are planning to slow down the process, that they want more deliberation. How can they do that if they're in the minority? Well, under Senate rules, they can use procedure to add lots of debate time for each nominee.
It looks like they're planning to do that. Watch the especially non-controversial ones like Elaine Chao, Ben Carson. What happens with them?
JUDY WOODRUFF: And Republicans not happy about this.
LISA DESJARDINS: No, they're not happy. And it's building to not just a sense of typical strategy here, but real tension between the two sides.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Lisa Desjardins, thank you. Appreciate it.
The other confirmation hearing we were watching today was the one for Mr. Trump's pick for the secretary of energy, former Texas Governor Rick Perry. Now, Perry called for the elimination of that very department when he ran for president in 2012. And then he forgot the name of the department during a debate.
Well, much of the department's role is devoted to monitoring, maintaining and keeping safe the nation's nuclear stockpile. Today, Perry admitted that he didn't truly understand its scope and mission until recently, and he said he now has a different attitude.
RICK PERRY, Secretary of Energy Nominee: My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking.
In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Perry, who has previously has denied the science of climate change, also spoke about his views on that subject. Senators pressed him on whether he would even protect scientists within the department and their budget.
And along a similar line of questioning, he also was asked about reports that the Trump transition team wants to cut funding for programs promoting renewable energy. Here's how some of that played out.
RICK PERRY: I believe that climate is changing. I believe some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is caused by manmade activity. The question is how we address it in a thoughtful way that doesn't compromise economic growth, it affects the affordability of energy or American jobs.
SEN. MARIA CANTWELL, D-Wash.: Do you plan to protect the science research at DOE related to climate?
RICK PERRY: Senator, I am going to protect the men and women of the scientific community from anyone that would attack them no matter what their reason may be, at the Department of Energy.
SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW, D-Mich.: How do you see your role? You're coming into a new position where we are talking about massive cuts in the kinds of things that you have advocated for, you supported in your role as governor things, that are critical to the future of the economy and lowering emissions and creating more efficiency?
RICK PERRY: I will be an advocate for that. I will be in the room advocating for these types of things. I'm not going to tell you I'm going to be 1000 percent successful in that.
SEN. MAZIE HIRONO, D-Hawaii: My question is, do you support these cuts, yes or no?
RICK PERRY: Well, Senator, maybe they will have the same experience I had and forget that they said that, but…
SEN. MAZIE HIRONO: We're counting on you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The next round of confirmation hearings starts again on Tuesday.
And moments ago, President-elect Trump spoke before the crowd gathered for an inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial.
PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP: We all got tired of seeing what was happening, And we wanted change, but we wanted real change. And I look so forward to tomorrow. We're going to see something that is going to be so amazing.