At least four Senate Republicans, including Susan Collins of Maine, are withholding their support for Andy Puzder to run the Labor Department.
President Donald Trump’s pick of Puzder, a fast-food executive, has run into resistance on Capitol Hill over his admission that he employed an undocumented housekeeper, among other issues.
“No, I haven’t,” Collins said when asked Monday if she had decided to back Puzder, whose confirmation hearing is scheduled for Thursday. “I’m going to wait until the issues that have arisen are fully explored at his hearing.”
Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Tim Scott of South Carolina, and Johnny Isakson of Georgia are also withholding their backing for Puzder, saying they are waiting for the confirmation hearing. In the 52-48 Senate, three Republican defections would doom Puzder if all 48 Democrats vote to deny him.
The uncertainty over Puzder – head of the fast food conglomerate CKE Restaurants Inc. that includes Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s — comes after a week that saw party-line confirmations in the Senate and a tie-breaking vote cast by Vice President Mike Pence for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. That 51-50 tally was the first time a vice president has ever broken a tie on a cabinet nomination.
The Senate voted 52-47 last week to approve Attorney General Jeff Sessions, after a bitter day-long debate that saw Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell silence Democrat Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Days later, the Senate again split 52-47 in approving Representative Tom Price to head the Department of Health and Human Services in a fight that stretched until 2:30 a.m.
McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said allegations of hiring undocumented workers have at times sunk cabinet nominees, but not always.
“We’re always looking for nominees who have never made a mistake,” McConnell told reporters last week. “Frequently it’s impossible to find nominees who have never made a mistake. He realized the mistake. He fixed it and I think is eminently qualified for the job, and for myself, I’m enthusiastically in his camp.”
Puzder has agreed to divest an ownership stake worth as much as $50 million in the fast-food chain if he’s confirmed as the next labor secretary, according to his federal financial disclosure and ethics agreement. The agreement broke a logjam that had delayed four previously scheduled hearings.
In another issue for Puzder, a Missouri judge is slated to rule Tuesday — two days before his Senate confirmation hearing — on a liberal group’s motion to unseal records from Puzder’s 1987 divorce.
Opponents have seized on multiple news reports that Puzder had been accused by Lisa Fierstein, his first wife, of domestic abuse. Puzder has denied the allegations. Fierstein, in a Jan. 18 letter to lawmakers, said that she had made such allegations against Puzder but later withdrew them, saying “Andy is not and was not abusive or violent.”
Collins said she has since viewed an episode of Oprah Winfrey’s talk show dealing with domestic violence in which Fierstein appeared. “I am reviewing the other information that has come to light and I’m sure all of this has been explored thoroughly.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, on Monday called on Trump to withdraw the Puzder nomination.
Puzder “is so anti-working people that it’s appalling,” Schumer said. “Tonight there’s even consternation on the Republican side about his moving forward and I would urge President Trump to withdraw the nomination of Mr. Puzder for labor secretary.”
Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat, again emerged as a speed bump for Trump’s nominees, when she sent a 28-page letter Monday asking Puzder 83 questions about personal and business conflicts. Among other areas, she inquired whether he would be able to properly oversee businesses tied to Trump and also asked about Puzder’s stance against workplace protections that include health and safety standards and gender- and race-based discrimination.
“You’ve made your fortune by squeezing the very workers you’d be charged with protecting as labor secretary out of wages and benefits,” Warren wrote. “Your company’s record of prolific labor law abuses and discrimination suits — the most of any major burger chain — gives me great pause given that as labor secretary you’d be charged with enforcing these very laws.”