WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House is working frantically to find a new secretary of labor candidate after President Donald Trump’s original pick, Andrew Puzder, abruptly withdrew from consideration.
It was a stark example of the disorganized nature of the new administration not known for thorough vetting of its people or its plans. Contentious confirmation fights, a botched rollout of Trump’s refugee order and the ouster this week of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn have nearly paralyzed the administration. Republicans grumbled about the stream of “distractions,” including the torrent of criticism about Puzder’s personal life and his record as CEO of CKE Restaurants, Inc.
What ultimately drained Puzder of enough Republican support for confirmation was his acknowledgment – well after Trump had become president – of employing a housekeeper not authorized to work in the U.S. Puzder said he had fired the employee about five years ago. But he did not pay the related taxes until after Trump nominated him as labor secretary on Dec. 9. Puzder said he paid the taxes as soon as he found out he owed them, but there was no explanation of why he didn’t know or pay for five years. Spokesman George Thompson said Wednesday that Puzder did not tell the White House about the housekeeper issue until after he had been nominated.
It’s not clear that Trump’s aides asked the immigration question before the nomination even though such issues have sunk past presidential nominations and Trump has taken a hard line on people in the U.S. illegally. People who were interviewed during the transition period said they were not asked by Trump’s team to provide vetting information, raising questions about the level of scrutiny.
Ultimately, Republicans made it clear that Puzder lacked the votes in a chamber narrowly split between Republicans and Democrats. There was scant, if any, praise for his vetting. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Lamar Alexander, who would have chaired Puzder’s confirmation hearing Thursday, issued statements praising Puzder’s qualifications but saying they “respect” his decision.
The former St. Louis attorney fell to a relentless series of attacks from Democrats, labor and other groups who opposed him on ideological and personal grounds. They contended that his corporate background and opposition to such proposals as a big hike in the minimum wage made him an unfit advocate for American workers at the top of an agency charged with enforcing worker protections. They rolled out stories from workers who said they were treated badly at Puzder’s company. And they were ready to make his women and his workers part of the hearing on Thursday. Puzder was quoted in Entrepreneur magazine in 2015 as saying, “I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis.” He said the racy commercials for Carl’s Jr., one of his companies, were “very American.”
Democrats also said Puzder had disparaged workers at his restaurants. He was quoted by Business Insider as saying he wanted to try robots at his restaurants, because “They’re always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex or race discrimination case.”
A coalition led by the pro-labor National Employment Law Project and Jobs With Justice groups said Puzder’s withdrawal represents the “first victory of the resistance against President Trump.”
“Workers and families across the country spoke up loud and clear that they want a true champion for all workers in the Labor Department,” said Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the panel that was to handle the hearing.