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Trading charges cast shadow over Trump cabinet pick

New stock trading allegations are set to cast a shadow over Tom Price’s confirmation hearing as health secretary on Wednesday, as Senate Democrats prepare to do battle over Donald Trump’s latest cabinet picks.

On Wednesday Senate Democrats and Republicans will question Mr Price, a sitting Republican congressman, over his fitness for the health role and his plans for repealing and replacing Obamacare — a key policy agenda for Mr Trump’s new administration.

However, Mr Price will also face heavy questioning from Democrats over certain investment decisions, which several Democratic senators say may have violated the law.

This week CNN reported that Mr Price had purchased stock worth between $1,000 and $15,000 in a medical device group called Zimmer Biomet Holdings in March. A few days after purchasing the stock, Mr Price introduced new legislation in Congress that would delay a new regulatory measure expected to hurt Zimmer Biomet’s business, CNN said, citing congressional records. 

According to CNN, a Zimmer Biomet political action committee donated to Mr Price’s re-election campaign.

A Trump campaign spokesman has said a stockbroker — not Mr Price himself — was responsible for the transaction and that the congressman did not know about the transaction when he called for the new legislation.

However, Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democratic senator from New York, has asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to “immediately investigate” whether Mr Price’s trade violated the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, which prohibits congressional representatives from making trades using congressional knowledge.

Separately, Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, has also questioned Mr Price’s actions.

“His legislation wasn’t broad legislation, it didn’t affect the healthcare industry in general . . . it specifically blocked a regulation on medical device companies that do hip and knee implants, including the very business he bought stock in,” Mr Schumer said on Tuesday. 

Mr Price’s confirmation hearing comes the same day Senate committees will also question Scott Pruitt, the nominated head for the Environmental Protection Agency; and Nikki Haley, Mr Trump’s pick for US ambassador to the UN.

Yet it appears unlikely that Democrats have yet managed to get the necessary number of Senate Republicans to turn against one of Mr Trump’s appointees and block an appointee’s confirmation.

On Tuesday Betsy DeVos, Mr Trump’s billionaire nominee for education secretary, was questioned aggressively by Democrats over potential conflicts of interest and the fact a government ethics office has not completed its review of her vast wealth.

Democrats also demanded to see her tax returns and clashed with the Republican chairing her Senate hearing for his refusal to give Democrats more time for questions.

Ms DeVos’s critics have painted her as a plutocratic Republican donor and enemy of public schools, citing her funding of groups that advocate using public funds to pay tuition fees at private institutions such as charter schools.

At one point during Tuesday’s hearing, Senator Bernie Sanders asked Ms DeVos: “Do you think, if you were not a multi-billionaire, if your family had not made hundreds of millions of dollars of contributions to the Republican Party, that you would be sitting here today?”

Ms DeVos replied: “As a matter of fact I do think that there would be that possibility.”

Republican senators, however, sought to defend Ms DeVos, ignoring the issue of her financial disclosures and revealing no cracks in their party’s support for the nominee.

Via FT