WASHINGTON -- Georgia U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Roswell, faced new conflict of interest questions during his Tuesday confirmation hearing to be health and human services secretary after Senate Democrats seized on allegations raised in a new memo.
Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee quickly delved into questions raised in a bipartisan staff memo circulated among members of the committee on Monday.
The memo, obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, alleges that Price undervalued the amount of stock he owned in an Australian biotech firm on his financial disclosure firms and didn't properly disclose late tax payments on rental properties in Nashville and Washington, D.C., as well as the fact that he had previously been investigated by a House ethics group.
Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the committee, dug in on the memo's allegation that Price understated the value of more than 400,000 shares in stock he owned in Innate Immunotherapeutics while also serving on Capitol Hill committees that write health care policy.
"Set aside the legal issues, it is hard to see this as anything but a conflict of interest and an abuse of position," Wyden said.
Price and his Republican allies defended his disclosures.
"Our belief is that that was a clerical error at the time that the (disclosure form) was filed," said Price.
"The reality is that everything that I did was ethical, above board, legal and transparent," he added.
As was the case last week, when the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee questioned Price, no Republican minds appeared to be changed by the ethics questions. Indeed, many GOP senators were quick to defend Price.
"I feel like I've been asked to be a character witness in a felony trial in the sentencing phase of a conviction," said U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who introduced Price at the top of the hearing and also serves as a member of the panel.
Tuesday's hearing hit on many of the same themes from the Roswell Republican's four-hour grilling last week. Democrats continued to raise questions about Price's past proposals to overhaul entitlement and health care programs, while Republicans lauded the seven-term lawmaker for his resume and vision for the sprawling Department of Health and Human Services.
Overall, the mood in the hearing room felt testier than it did last week.
That's because the stakes are a lot higher. The 26 members of the Finance panel will ultimately decide on whether Price's nomination should be advanced to the Senate floor in the days and weeks ahead.
Other conflicts were also at play during Tuesday's hearing. Senators periodically sniped at each other over the timetable for considering Trump's Cabinet nominees.
Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch slammed Democrats for pushing to stretch out the timeframe for Price and other nominees.
"The time between the completion of Dr. Price's file and his hearing has been more than that of the last two (health and human services) secretaries combined," said Hatch, R-Utah.
"By any reasonable standard, that is sufficient time for a full and fair examination of the nominee's record and disclosures," he said.
Democrats shot back.
"Colleagues, the process here is exactly the same process, to a tee, that this committee has used for 20 years," said Wyden.
Price's second turn before the Senate came as a liberal North Fulton group planned to protest his nomination at his Roswell office. The group Needles in a Haystack said several dozen activists were planning to participate in the demonstration later this afternoon.
Check back to myajc.com for more updates to this developing story.