Daniel Correa – President Donald Trump’s pick to head the Treasury Department, Steven Mnuchin, has been confirmed by a divided Senate with a vote of 53-47. Notably, all Republicans voted in Mnuchin’s favor and all Democrats, besides Joe Manchin of West Virginia, voted against him.
Democrats quickly signaled their strong opposition towards the nominee. The Democratic National Committee noted “nominating Steve Mnuchin to be Treasury Secretary… is a slap to the face to voters who hoped that [Trump] would shake up Washington.” Many have criticized President Trump’s selection because Mnuchin is a Wall-Street friendly banker, which is inconsistent with Trump’s promise to stand with the American workers. Mnuchin, like his father before him, was a partner at Goldman Sachs. He joined the firm at 22 years of age and worked there for 17 years. Furthermore, Mnuchin has been criticized over his handling of thousands of foreclosures as head of OneWest Bank after the 2007-2009 housing collapse. According to Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, “[i]f Steven Mnuchin gets confirmed, the banks are going to have the best friend they can have in the Treasury Department.”
Republicans, however, came to Mnuchin’s defense, saying he will be an experienced steward of the economy. Defenders claim Mnuchin’s long tenure in finance makes him qualified to run the department, which will be critical in developing economic policy under President Donald Trump. Additionally, President Trump praised him as “a financial legend with an incredible track record of success.” He said Mnuchin has spent his entire career making money in the private sector and now will employ those skills on behalf of the American taxpayer.
The Senate’s confirmation of Mnuchin has marked the third straight week of a slow moving, highly partisan process to fill Trump’s cabinet. Because Democrats only have 48 senators, they are unable to block any of Trump’s nominations without Republican support. This has led Republicans to complain about the pace of the confirmations. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told reporters “[t]his is the slowest time for a new Cabinet to be up and running since George Washington.”
As the Treasury Secretary, Mnuchin is now the face of the American economy around the world. The Treasury Department has extensive responsibilities over business affairs and oversees banking regulations, financial markets, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The department has an estimated 100,000 employees, with roughly 91,000 of them in the IRS. Additionally, the Treasury Secretary is essentially the country’s banker—paying the bills, managing the federal government debt, collecting taxes, and selling billions of dollars in Treasury bonds.
Mnuchin will quickly be challenged as the new Treasury Secretary. In the upcoming months, he will face the March 15, 2017 expiration of a U.S. debt ceiling suspension, ushering in the threat of a new default showdown. He will also face a March 17, 2017 meeting of finance ministers from the Group of 20 major economies where he will likely be bombarded with tough questions about President Trump’s plans to increase trade protections. In April, Mnuchin will be responsible for determining whether to declare China a currency manipulator as part of the Treasury’s semi-annual currency report, which may possibly trigger a trade war.
Mnuchin adds another Goldman veteran to a key spot in President Trump’s administration, along with economic advisor Gary Cohn and chief strategist Steve Bannon. According to Mnuchin, he will now pursue growth-oriented strategies that will unravel business investment and stimulate job creation. He has told lawmakers he will deal impartially with President Trump’s vast business holdings to ensure there are no conflicts of interest and enforce the restricted economic sanctions imposed on Russia. Also, he wishes to keep the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau but aim to make its funding dependent on congressional approval.