Democratic Rep. Katie Porter (Calif.) on Wednesday got into a heated conversation with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin during a House Financial Services Committee hearing, with Porter claiming that Mnuchin was “play-acting to be a lawyer.”
Porter specifically grilled Mnuchin over his support to move $455 billion in COVID-19 relief from the Federal Reserve back into the Treasury’s general fund, making it harder for his successor to access the emergency funding.
Porter noted that under the CARES Act, any remaining funds may be moved to the Treasury only “on or after Jan. 1, 2026.”
When I tried to read @stevenmnuchin1 the law that contradicts his bogus claim to get people less COVID relief, he questioned whether I’m a lawyer.
Just want to make sure he has the answer: one of us is a lawyer, and it’s not him. pic.twitter.com/iFYzAyflle
– Rep. Katie Porter (@RepKatiePorter) December 2, 2020
“Secretary Mnuchin, is it currently the year 2026? Yes or no?” the congresswoman asked via video conference at the hearing.
Mnuchin responded, “First, let me comment. I do believe there’s an economic -“
“Secretary Mnuchin, reclaiming my time,” Porter interrupted.
“You’re putting words in my mouth that are not correct,” the Treasury secretary said.
Porter then repeated her question, to which Mnuchin replied, “Of course it’s not 2026.”
“How ridiculous to ask me that question to waste our time,” he added.
“Well, Secretary Mnuchin, I think it’s ridiculous that you’re play-acting to be a lawyer when you have no legal degree,” Porter added.
Mnuchin then explained that he has several lawyers advising him at the Department of the Treasury.
“I’m more than happy to follow up with Chair [Maxine] Waters [D-Calif.] and explain all the legal provisions,” he added.
“Secretary Mnuchin, are you in fact a lawyer?” Porter continued.
“I do not have a legal degree. I have lawyers that report to me,” Mnuchin replied.
Porter then asked Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who appeared before the committee Wednesday along with Mnuchin, if he was a lawyer.
Powell, who previously practiced law and holds a legal degree from Georgetown University, confirmed he was a lawyer.
“OK, so Secretary Mnuchin, you are trying to tell Chairman Powell to send over any remaining funds right now, and you’re claiming falsely, in my opinion, that that is what the law says,” Porter argued.
Mnuchin then asked if Porter was a lawyer. Porter holds a degree from Harvard Law School and serves as a law professor at the University of California, Irvine.
The amount to be returned to the Treasury’s general fund was part of a $500 billion allocation in the $2.2 trillion CARES Act that President Trump signed into law in late March.
Bharat Ramamurti, a former adviser to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) who now serves as a member of the congressional committee appointed to oversee the funds, called Mnuchin’s proposed move of the money last week “illegal.”
Mnuchin has previously received criticism for his handling of the stimulus funding from Congress, with a federal judge in June ordering the secretary to release the full $679 million in funding set aside for Native American tribes.
Mnuchin had previously committed to holding it back while waiting on a decision in another case that will determine whether tribal businesses are eligible for the funding.
“The Secretary has now taken more than twice as much time as Congress directed to distribute all CARES Act funds,” U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta wrote in the decision.