Senate Democrats grilled Russell Vought, President Donald Trump's pick to permanently lead the White House's Office of Management and Budget during a confirmation hearing on Wednesday. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
June 3 (UPI) -- Senators grilled President Donald Trump's pick to permanently lead the White House's Office of Management and Budget during a confirmation hearing on Wednesday.
Russell Vought, who has helmed the office on an active basis since January 2019, faced stiff opposition from Democrats on the Senate budget committee as they questioned him on his absence in coronavirus relief efforts, his role in withholding foreign aid to Ukraine and his stance on withholding funds for states who carry out elections by mail-in ballot.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., both said they would oppose Vought's nomination, although it is likely to be approved by the Republican-led chamber.
They were critical of the administration's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with Murray alleging Vought has been "nowhere to be found" in negotiations for relief efforts between Congress and the White House.
"Mr. Vought, if I might, let me be very blunt -- given the enormity of this crisis and the failure of the Trump administration to respond to the unprecedented pain and suffering that the American people are now experiencing, I will be voting against your nomination," said Sanders.
Vought said he speaks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin "multiple times a day" to work together on such issues and made himself available to "build a closer relationship" with members of the committee.
Murray called Vought "unfit and unqualified" to lead the OMB arguing that he violated the law when he acted to withhold military aid to Ukraine.
"To the chairman and my Republican colleagues, how is it we are having a hearing on a nominee who has shown he is unwilling or unable to stand up to this president, even when directed to break the law and who has continuously displayed such a willful disregard of Congress as a coequal branch of government?" Murray asked.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked Vought what he would do if Trump ordered him to cut federal aid to states who send out absentee ballots to which he replied he has so far sought to accomplish Trump's objectives "consistent with the law."
"I would take a review of programs and what discretionary authority we had, but I would do it within the bounds of the law," said Vought.
Republicans largely praised Vought, with Pennsylvania Sen. Patrick J. Toomey saying he has been a "constructive, transparent, accessible person" and crediting him for the strength of the economy prior to the pandemic.