President Donald Trump has nominated former National Labour Relations Board member R Alexander Acosta to serve as US secretary of labour, one day after Trump’s original choice withdrew.
Acosta is dean of the Florida International University College of Law in Miami and is Trump’s first Hispanic nominee.
“He has had a tremendous career,” Trump told reporters assembled in the East Room of the White House. “I think he’ll be a tremendous secretary of labour.”
Before returning to the private sector, Acosta had a decades-long public service career, serving in three presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed positions.
He was appointed to the National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) by former president George W Bush, who also appointed him to be assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
He was then appointed to be US attorney for the Southern District of Florida, where he went after high-profile defendants such as Jack Abramoff and UBS, resulting in the Swiss bank paying more than $750mn in fines for a tax-avoidance scheme.
Though Acosta signed hundreds of opinions at the NLRB, some of which are sure to draw scrutiny from progressives, those familiar with his work describe him as a careful and cautious public servant whose career trajectory suggested he may someday vie for a federal judgeship.
Having gone through multiple vettings by the US Senate, it is unlikely there will be any surprises in his background that could derail his nomination.
Trump’s first labour secretary pick, Andrew Puzder removed his name from consideration on Wednesday amid concerns that he could not garner enough Senate votes to be confirmed.
Puzder’s decision to withdraw is yet another setback this week for a White House still grappling with fallout from Monday night’s abrupt resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn, after less than a month in the job.
Puzder, the chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants Incorporated, which primarily franchises fast-food chains including Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr, has been at the centre of a swirl of controversies, complaints and potential conflicts.
He admitted earlier this month that he and his wife had employed an undocumented person as a housekeeper.
He faced a flurry of complaints and legal cases brought in recent weeks and months by workers against his business and its franchises.
Most recently, a decades-old Oprah Winfrey tape raising allegations of domestic abuse by his ex-wife resurfaced, though those allegations had been withdrawn.
“After careful consideration and discussions with my family, I am withdrawing my nomination for Secretary of Labour,” Puzder said in a statement.
Puzder’s withdrawal came one day before his scheduled confirmation hearing.
At least seven Republican senators, including Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, declined to publicly back Puzder in advance of the confirmation hearing.
For weeks now, Republican senators have been telling Senator John Cornyn, the second-highest ranking Republican, that they believed some of their colleagues would join Collins and Murkowski in opposing Puzder, according to a senior Senate Republican aide.
The Labour Department oversees compliance with federal laws that mandate safe working conditions, a minimum hourly wage, overtime wages and prohibit employment discrimination.
As labour secretary, Puzder would have shaped the department’s approach to these issues, including whether to defend an Obama administration rule expanding overtime pay to millions of workers that has been challenged in the courts.
Earlier this month, Puzder admitted that he and his wife had employed an undocumented person as a housekeeper and had to pay back taxes as a result.
Workers at some of CKE’s restaurants have filed claims in recent weeks alleging they were victims of wage theft or victims of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Another possible problem were allegations dating back to 1986 that Puzder had physically abused his now ex-wife, Lisa Henning, now known as Lisa Fierstein.
Fierstein filed for divorce in 1987 and later retracted her allegations, but not before appearing anonymously as a victim of domestic abuse on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Last week, the OWN Network released a copy of that tape to the Senate committee so both Democratic and Republican members could view it, according to an aide.
“From the start, it’s been clear that Puzder is uniquely unqualified to serve as secretary of labour,” said Patty Murray, the ranking member of the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labour and Pensions.
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