Waters to Mnuchin: ‘If you wish to leave, you may leave’
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin ended a long day of testimony before House lawmakers in a verbal sparring match with California Rep. Maxine Waters, the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, over his insistence on leaving for a previously scheduled appointment.
The Treasury secretary at 5:08 p.m. ET interrupted the question-and-answer session with lawmakers to remind the committee of their agreement that he would be able to leave at 5 p.m.
Mnuchin said he was scheduled to meet with a senior official from the government of Bahrain to discuss efforts to combat counterterrorism financing, but would be willing to stay until 5:15 and return at a later date to testify before the committee.
“It will be embarrassing if I keep this person waiting for a long period of time,” Mnuchin said.
Waters responded: “Unfortunately, we are all pressed for time.”
The exchange came at the end of Mnuchin’s back-to-back appearances before a panel of the House Appropriations Committee and then before Waters’ full committee, where he was grilled about his plans for responding to Democrats’ requests for access to President Donald Trump’s tax returns.
Waters has long been an antagonist to Trump, who has openly ridiculed her on Twitter and in rallies. She was quick to assert her new authority over Mnuchin, reminding him that “it’s a new day and it’s a new chair” when Mnuchin said that previous Treasury secretaries have never testified for longer than three hours.
“I have the gavel at this point,” Waters said. “If you wish to leave, you may.”
Mnuchin momentarily paused and asked for a clarification from the chair, “OK, so we’re dismissed? Is that correct?”
To which Waters repeated: “If you wish to leave, you may leave. You’re wasting your time, remember you have a foreign dignitary in your office.”
The secretary then threatened to “rethink” whether he would voluntarily return back to the committee to testify if he was going to poorly treated.
“If you’d wish to keep me here so that I don’t have my important meeting and continue to grill me, then we can do that,” said Mnuchin. “I will cancel my meeting and I will not be back here. I will be very clear if that’s the way you’d like to have this relationship.”
Waters seized on the comments and proceeded with acknowledging the next member in line to ask a question, only to have Mnuchin correct the record by saying that the chairwoman was “instructing” him to stay and cancel his meeting.
“No. You just made an offer,” said Waters.
“No, I didn’t make you an offer,” Mnuchin replied.
“You made me an offer that I accepted,” Waters said. “No, I’m not ordering you. I said you may leave anytime you want and you said OK. If that’s what you want to do, I’ll cancel my appointment and I’ll stay here. So I’m responding to your request, if that’s what you want to do.”
Mnuchin responded by telling Waters she would need to dismiss him before he could leave the hearing room. “You’re supposed to take the gavel and bang it, that’s the appropriate …”
He was interrupted by Waters: “Please do not instruct me as to how I am to conduct this committee.”
Shortly thereafter, Mnuchin was advised by a member of his staff that he was not required to stay and left shortly thereafter.
He testified for three and a half hours.
Waters told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Tuesday night that Mnuchin’s meeting was secondary to the committee’s oversight responsibilities.
“When he said that he had somebody important (to meet), I don’t think that there’s anything or anybody more important than the Congress of the United States of America trying to find out what exactly this secretary is doing,” she said.