A Senate panel on Tuesday approved the nomination of Jacob J. Lew to be Treasury secretary, clearing the first hurdle toward confirmation amid GOP concerns about Lew’s personal investments and his role in budget negotiations.
Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said later on Tuesday that he expects Lew would be confirmed by a wide margin. Although he could not give any details regarding vote timing, Baucus said despite reservations from some GOP senators, he does not believe any intend to block the final vote.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday evening that he hopes senators will reach an agreement to hold a confirmation vote on Lew’s nomination Wednesday.
The nominee faces opposition from the GOP for a variety of reasons, however. During the Finance panel’s 19-5 endorsement of Lew’s nomination Tuesday, Republicans Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, Michael D. Crapo of Idaho, Pat Roberts of Kansas, Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming and John Cornyn of Texas voted “no.”
Grassley said Lew failed to allay specific concerns at a Feb. 13 hearing, adding that “if Mr. Lew will not answer our questions now, why should we on this committee expect him to answer any questions if he’s confirmed.”
Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions and Vermont independent Bernard Sanders also have said they oppose the nomination — Sessions because he believes Lew misled the Senate in his presentation of the president’s budget and Sanders because he fears Lew is too closely associated with Wall Street.
John Thune of South Dakota, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, voted for Lew’s nomination in Finance on Tuesday, and said he would support confirmation in the Senate. “I expect to be for him on the floor,” Thune said. “I think he was very evasive in his response to questions on the sequester and how it originated. ... But I think by and large it’s a guy the president wants. He’s a competent person.”
Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said he would oppose Lew’s nomination on the floor. “He’s one of the principal architects of the president’s refusal to deal with our fiscal problems,” Cornyn said.
The panel’s ranking Republican, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, said that despite his reservations, he voted for Lew to defer to President Barack Obama’s pick for the Cabinet position. Lew is the former White House chief of staff under Obama and the former budget director for President Bill Clinton. “I hope we end up with the Jack Lew of the Clinton administration, not just another acolyte of the Obama White House,” he said.
On Tuesday, Grassley rehashed his criticism of Lew for investing from 2007 to 2010 in a venture capital fund based in the Cayman Islands and for accepting a compensation package as a senior official at Citigroup, which received a $45 billion federal bailout during the 2008 financial crisis.
Grassley has also said Lew did not provide adequate detail or documents about a loan he received from New York University when he was its chief operating officer.
“What we have seen so far is that Mr. Lew was very good at getting paid by taxpayer-supported institutions,” Grassley quipped.
Baucus said that the latest reports of Lew receiving a large severance payment from NYU will not affect his path to confirmation, adding that the university “can do whatever it wants to do.”
Hatch said he plans to explore concerns of unanswered questions more fully — perhaps when the nomination comes to the floor — citing his frustration with the Obama administration for a “lack of responsiveness” to inquiries from panel Republicans.
Ben Weyl and Alan K. Ota contributed to this story.