Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Victory for Workers in Trump’s Puzder Defeat

America’s workers won when Donald Trump's first choice for Secretary of Labor Andrew Puzder recently withdrew his nomination, after it appeared unlikely that Puzder could get even 50 votes in the Republican-controlled Senate. Puzder, the CEO of Carl's, Jr. and Hardee's fast food restaurants, had the kind of baggage that would have sunk any nominee in a previous administration: his ex-wife had stated on Oprah that Puzder abused her,[1] Puzder employed an undocumented housekeeper and failed to pay taxes until after his nomination, and Puzder had long defended his restaurant chains’ hyper-sexualized ads featuring swimsuit models drooling over burgers.

More to the point, though, Carl's, Jr. and Hardee's restaurants have a long record of wage violations and workplace sexual harassment, and Puzder is a committed opponent of a federal minimum wage increase from the current, unlivable rate of $7.25 per hour. Puzder's support for moderate immigration reform -- at odds with the Trump Administration -- seemed informed more by a desire to increase the supply of cheaper, exploitable labor rather than any humanitarian aims. In short, putting Puzder in charge of the Department of Labor would have been an affront to America’s working families, more like a charter for a new Department against Labor.

Puzder’s withdrawal is also an encouraging development because it shows that at least some of the old rules still apply to Trump, and, further, shows some cracks forming in Senate Republicans’ support for the Administration and its nominees, regardless of their qualifications (or lack thereof). Reportedly, Senators Collins (Maine) and Murkowski (Alaska) expressed serious reservations after viewing the tape of Puzder’s ex-wife on Oprah. Several other Republican Senators were apparently more concerned about the undocumented housekeeper than Puzder’s alleged spousal abuse. Regardless, the signals from certain Senate Republicans (and a united Democratic party) as to Puzder’s disqualifying biography evoke a return to previous norms concerning suitability for high public office.

Trump announced his replacement nominee Alexander Acosta the very next day at the start of a 77-minute press conference that subsequently devolved into the President reacting defensively and returning to his standard line, when confronted with his failings, of berating the reporters who dared to question him.

Acosta is the current dean of Florida International University Law School, served in the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice during the George W. Bush Administration, and served on the National Labor Relations Board. If confirmed, he would be the only Hispanic-American in Trump’s cabinet.

Acosta has considerable government experience, having been confirmed by the U.S. Senate three times, and is clearly more qualified to run his assigned agency as compared to many of Trump’s “tremendous” nominees (see Betsy DeVos, Ben Carson, Rick Perry). Acosta has testified in the Senate against the anti-Muslim discrimination, which seems to be a unifying theme among many of Trump’s supporters. 

Acosta’s tenure in the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division during the Bush Administration is cause for concern, given the rampant politicization of personnel decisions during his tenure. Acosta also has no record protecting workers’ rights, though Trump had pretended during the campaign that as President he would be a working-class champion. Still, Acosta is the kind of nominee one could expect to see in any Republican administration, rather than being just another of Trump's rich, white friends who is patently unqualified for high government service.

The collapse of Puzder’s nomination, shortly following the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, is another major setback for the chaotic Trump Administration, and another victory for our resistance. The replacement nomination of Acosta, a fairly conventional Republican pick who will likely be easily confirmed, shows how much political capital Trump has already lost due to the proliferation of scandal, incompetence, and mismanagement during Trump’s first month in office.

[1] Puzder denies the abuse allegations, and his ex-wife has since recanted them.

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