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White House counselor Kellyanne Conway blasted Senate Democrats for holding up Cabinet nominee appointments and said their delay has unprecedented consequences.
"I was told yesterday, that this is longest that the nation has gone without a secretary of the Treasury, at least in modern times," Conway said Feb. 2 on Fox and Friends. "If it's not the longest, it's darn close to it."
This piqued our interest. Is this really the longest the United States has gone without a secretary of the Treasury? Well, no. In fact, you don’t have to look that far back to find a longer period of time when the United States was without a president-appointed, Senate-confirmed Treasury secretary.
Donald Trump nominated longtime banker and former Goldman Sachs executive Steve Mnuchin to fill the Treasury secretary position in late November.
The Department of the Treasury oversees financial and monetary matters, and its secretary is fifth in the presidential line of succession.
Since Jan. 20, 2017, Adam Jacob Szubin has served as acting Treasury secretary — taking over the job from former President Barack Obama’s appointment, Jack Lew. So over the past two weeks, there has actually been someone in place overseeing the agency’s business, unlike what Conway intimated. An incoming administration also has the power to designate acting heads of the various departments until the confirmation process is over.
Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee delayed a vote on Mnuchin Jan. 30 by refusing to attend the meeting, denying Republicans the number of Democrats they need to go forward with a vote. (The Democrats did the same thing for other Trump appointment Rep. Tom Price, the health and human services nominee.) The issue they had with Mnuchin, they said, was that he made misleading statements during his nomination hearing about whether his former bank, OneWest, used automated "robo-signings" of foreclosure documents.
But Republicans fought back, changed procedural rules and advanced the nominee through the committee Feb. 1. His nomination will now move on to the full Senate.
Conway said that this is the longest that the nation has gone without a secretary of the Treasury, but there have been longer periods with an acting secretary.
When former Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner left the post in 2013, Obama nominated Jack Lew to replace him on Jan. 10, 2013. Geithner left office on Jan. 25, and Lew was not confirmed until Feb. 27, 2013.
From Jan. 25, 2013, to Feb. 27, 2013, Neal Wolin served as acting secretary. Adding up the days in that gap show the United States did not have an officially appointed Treasury secretary for 34 days, obviously longer than the 14-day window Conway mentioned Feb. 2.
Going back a little further to the transition of power from former President George W. Bush to Obama in 2009, there was a only a seven-day gap between when acting Treasury Secretary Stuart Levy served and Geithner took office.
Bush nominated three Treasury secretaries during his tenure, all with varying times before taking office.
The first nomination was Paul O’Neill in 2001. He only served until Dec. 31, 2002, so Bush nominated John Snow on Jan. 13, 2003, to fill his spot. Snow wasn’t appointed until Feb. 3, 2003, so Kenneth Dam served as acting secretary from Dec. 31, 2002, to Feb. 3, 2003. That’s 35 days.
After Snow, Bush nominated Henry M. Paulson in 2006. Before he was confirmed, Robert Kimmitt was acting Treasury secretary for 11 days.
Conway’s slight walkback that if Mnuchin’s wait is the longest ever — if not "darn close" — doesn’t hold up.
Conway said, "This is longest that the nation has gone without a secretary of the Treasury, at least in modern times. If it's not the longest, it's darn close to it."
Conway is wrong. The United States didn’t have a president-appointed, Senate-confirmed secretary of Treasury for 34 days in 2013. Mnuchin’s confirmation could drag out longer, but Conway made this claim on Feb. 2, 14 days after inauguration.
We rate this claim False.
Email interview, Steven Cheung, White House spokesperson
ProPublica, "Who Runs Departments Before Heads Are Confirmed?" Jan. 22, 2009
Wall Street Journal, "Donald Trump to Pick Ex-Banker Steven Mnuchin for Treasury Nominee," Nov. 29, 2016.
U.S. Department of the Treasury, Secretaries of the Treasury
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