Sen. Pat Roberts, defending a Trump nominee in a committee hearing Thursday, joked that a Democrat on the panel take a drug to calm down.
The quip didn’t go over well.
Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, had been questioning Treasury secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin over how a bank he had taken over aggressively pursued home mortgage foreclosures. The Wall Street financier is expected to ultimately win confirmation, but not without a grilling by Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee.
Roberts suggested during the committee meeting that perhaps Wyden had set the heat unnecessarily high.
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“I just have an observation. I think that today — Mike what have you done with my, uh, here it is — Sen. Wyden, I’ve got a Valium pill here,” Roberts said, appearing to dig his right hand into a suit pocket, “that you might want to take before the second round” of questioning.
“It’s just a suggestion, sir,” Roberts said, his tone dry but light. “Mr. Mnuchin, from the distinguished ranking member’s remarks, I understand you were in charge of the Great Recession —”
“— Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman,” interrupted Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat. “I hope that that comment about Valium doesn’t set the tone for 2017 in this committee. I like Sen. Roberts, but I can’t quite believe that he would say that to the distinguished senator from Oregon.”
“I said that,” Roberts shot back, his laconic tone growing more tense, “to the president of the United States at one —”
“— Perhaps you did,” said Brown. “But I would hope that that doesn’t set the tone.”
Voices began tripping over each other and somebody suggested Robert’s Valium quip was “outrageous.”
“I don’t know about outrageous,” the Kansan responded, “but I think just a little pinprick of humor might help this committee from time to time, which I engage in. And I appreciate the gentleman’s contribution with regards to the Agriculture Committee. He’s a good member of the committee. We work together on the Ethics Committee.
“I’m sorry,” Roberts continued, wiggling a pen in the air as if search for the right words, “you know, um, incurred your wrath, sir. So, we’ll be alright.
“OK,” Roberts said, turning back to Mnuchin, “the pass through things on tax reform.”
Then Wyden interrupted to complain about Robert’s use of time.
“Fine, Ron,” Roberts said, no disguising the irritation in his voice. “I’m done. Thank you.”