President Trump’s embattled choice to serve as the next labor secretary withdrew his nomination Wednesday after months of controversy and new reports of defections by as many as a dozen key Republicans.
Andrew Puzder, CEO of a restaurant group that includes Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, said in a statement he was “honored to have been considered by President Donald Trump to lead the Department of Labor and put America’s workers and businesses back on a path to sustainable prosperity,” as the Associated Press reported.
Controversy dogged the fast-food magnate’s nomination, including a recent admission that he employed an undocumented housekeeper, a violation that has historically forced Cabinet nominees to withdraw.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reportedly told the White House that Puzder lacked the votes to win Senate confirmation, as the Washington Post reported.
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Democrats were quick to cheer Puzder’s withdrawal. Democratic Sen. Patty Murray (WA), the top Democrat on the committee set to hold Puzder’s confirmation hearing, called the fast-food chief “uniquely unqualified to serve as secretary of labor.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called it a “victory for the American worker.”
The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee was scheduled to consider Puzder’s nomination Thursday. The confirmation hearing had been delayed four times.
Reports Wednesday by CNN suggested as many as a dozen Republicans considered voting against Puzder’s confirmation. Republicans needed yes votes from at least 50 of the 52 GOP senators, along with Vice President Mike Pence casting the deciding affirmative vote in case of a 50-50 tie, to confirm Puzder’s nomination.
It was revealed this week that Puzder’s ex-wife appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 1990 as a domestic violence survivor, reviving allegations against the fast-food chief of repeated physical assault in the 1980s. His ex-wife retracted the allegations, but Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who chairs the committee that was to hold Puzder’s confirmation hearing, told Politico he had arranged for senators to see the Oprah tape.
“From the beginning of the confirmation process, it has been clear that Mr. Puzder would be completely unfit to lead the Department of Labor,” Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) said in a statement. “Given his troubling record on gender-based workplace harassment and violence, his opposition to increases to the minimum wage, and his support for rolling back critical protections for workers, it is appropriate that Mr. Puzder withdrew his nomination to serve as the secretary of labor.”
Fast-food workers, labor groups, and Democrats sought to torpedo the nomination of Puzder, a champion of workplace automation who opposes the existence of a minimum wage and labor protections, as well as the Affordable Care Act.
A scathing report released last month by Murray and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) alleged Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s employees were denied breaks, exposed to unsafe work conditions and harassment, and forced to work off the clock or prepare food while they were ill. Workers at Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. franchises filed 33 complaints last month, alleging wage theft, harassment, and intimidation at the restaurants.
Tom Perez, the labor secretary in the Obama administration, said Wednesday of Puzder: “He was someone for whom we had a steady diet of wage and hour cases.”
“When Donald Trump first tapped Andy Puzder to be labor secretary, fast-food workers told the president that if he sided with fast-food CEOs instead of fast-food workers, he’d be on the wrong side of history,” Darin Brooks, a Hardee’s worker and member of the Fight for $15 campaign’s Durham, North Carolina, chapter, said in a statement. “We rallied outside Puzder’s stores nationwide and showed America how his burger empire was built on low pay, wage theft, sexual harassment and intimidation. And today, we are on the right side of history.”
Puzder told California State University students in 2011 that in “fast food, you sort of compete for the best of the worst.” Puzder added that Hardee’s employees were “the worst of the worst.” He suggested robots could replace human workers.
“From the very start of the nomination process, it was clear that fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder was unfit to lead the U.S. Department of Labor,” Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, said in a statement Wednesday. “In nominating Mr. Puzder for labor secretary, President Trump chose for the department that champions workers someone whose views and values are not only antithetical to what workers want and need, but also out of step with mainstream America.”
Business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had rallied around Puzder, reportedly pressuring GOP defectors to support his nomination, as CNN reported. Trump, in nominating the fast-food CEO, had praised Puzder’s “extensive record fighting for workers.”
But by Wednesday, even anti-worker stalwarts had abandoned Puzder, with the National Review writing an op-ed titled, “No to Puzder.”
A source close to Puzder said, “He’s very tired of the abuse.”