Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin got into a heated exchange over COVID-19 relief funding during a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Wednesday.

Porter was questioning Mnuchin’s plan to claw back $455 billion in unspent stimulus package funding to the Treasury’s general fund. The move would make it harder for his successor to access the money.

Reading aloud a section from the stimulus measure, known as the CARES Act, Porter noted that remaining funds can be transferred back to the Treasury no sooner than Jan. 1, 2026.

“Secretary Mnuchin, is it currently the year 2026? Yes or no,” Porter asked.

Mnuchin did not answer the question and accused her of “putting words in my mouth that are not correct.”

Porter repeated her question. 

“Of course it’s not 2026,” Mnuchin snapped. “How ridiculous to ask me that question to waste our time.”

“Well, Secretary Mnuchin, I think it’s ridiculous that you’re play-acting to be a lawyer when you have no legal degree,” Porter replied.

Mnuchin argued that he has “plenty of lawyers” in his department who advise him.

“Secretary Mnuchin, are you in fact a lawyer?” Porter asked.

“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 was questioned by the committee alongside Mnuchin, if he was a lawyer.

Powell confirmed that he formerly practiced law. He holds a law degree from Georgetown University.

“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 said.

Mnuchin then interrupted Porter to ask, “Are you a lawyer?”

Porter did not acknowledge his question. She has a law degree from Harvard and is a tenured professor of law at the University of California, Irvine.

Democrats have questioned the legality of Mnuchin’s plan, which would require his presumed successor, former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, to get congressional authorization to access the remaining funds. It would leave her with just $80 billion in relief funds at her discretion. Mnuchin has rejected charges from Democrats that he is attempting to hobble President-elect Joe Biden’s options to manage the economic crisis.

Bharat Ramamurti, a Democratic member of the congressional watchdog commission appointed to oversee the relief funds, lambasted the move last week.

“This is Treasury’s latest ham-handed effort to undermine the Biden Administration,” he tweeted. “The good news is that it’s illegal and can be reversed next year.”

The Fed initially objected to Mnuchin’s decision but agreed to return the funds. Both Powell and Mnuchin urged lawmakers in hearings Tuesday and Wednesday to strike a deal on another stimulus bill.


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