The Senate Budget Committee on Thursday approved the nomination of Russell Vought to be director of the Office of Management and Budget, amid recriminations from Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., that backing Vought was an abdication of responsibility.
Vought earlier this week won party-line approval by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which shares jurisdiction, likely assuring his confirmation by the full Senate in another probable party-line vote.
The Budget Committee voted 11-10 to advance Vought, with all 11 Republicans present and supporting, and all 10 Democrats opposed. Just two Democrats were in person and eight voted by proxy. Tim Kaine, D-Va., was present for the vote along with Van Hollen.
Van Hollen had questioned Vought during a confirmation hearing last week over OMB’s actions in temporarily withholding foreign aid to Ukraine at President Donald Trump’s direction. OMB eventually released the aid, but the Government Accountability Office, a legislative agency, concluded the delay violated a 1974 law that bars the president from withholding appropriated money except under certain circumstances.
Van Hollen picked up on that theme Thursday, noting that Vought was acting director of OMB when the hold occurred last year. Vought is the Senate-confirmed deputy director of OMB and has served as acting director since January 2019.
“It seems to be a metaphor for this administration that they would submit to this Senate as their nominee to head OMB the person who our congressional watchdog concluded violated the law,” Van Hollen said. “And it will be a metaphor for this Congress abdicating its responsibilities with respect to the executive branch if we approve the nomination of the person found to have violated the law that Congress enacted to protect our powers of the purse.”
Van Hollen also said the GAO indicated Vought “refused to cooperate in their investigation, covered up documents.”
During the hearing last week, Van Hollen asked Vought about a Nov. 25, 2019 letter to OMB in which GAO asked the budget office to share “documentation” supporting the Ukraine aid delay. Van Hollen asked Vought if OMB ever provided those documents and if not, why not.
Vought responded that the congressional request for documents was a “heavily contested issue between the two branches.” Vought said he would have to check back on the “particular reasons” for not providing documents.
Last year, OMB wrote to GAO saying the withholding of Ukraine aid was not an illegal deferral but instead a “programmatic delay” used to provide time in which to determine that the funds “were not obligated prematurely in a manner that could conflict with the President’s foreign policy.”
In January, the GAO disagreed, issuing an opinion saying the aid holdup violated the law. OMB officials disputed the finding and argued that since the GAO is part of the legislative branch, its opinions are not binding on the executive branch.