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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Andrew Puzder was a puzzler; Alexander Acosta’s a better bet

Andrew Puzder, CEO of CKE, the parent company

Andrew Puzder, CEO of CKE, the parent company of Hardee's and Carl's Jr., withdrew his bid for Labor Secretary on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. Photo Credit: Bloomberg / DANIEL ACKER

President Donald Trump’s first pick for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, presented a mystery — not for where he stood on issues, but for why his name was advanced in the first place.

Given the red flags that led to Puzder’s derailment as nominee suggests the initial White House vetting for the job could not have been extreme.

Puzder, CEO of the company that owns Hardee’s, admitted he had employed an immigrant housekeeper who entered the country illegally. His ex-wife once went on “Oprah” with charges of domestic abuse that she later retracted and he always denied.

Puzder also said robots in some cases made better employees than people. “They’re always polite, they always up sell, 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,” he told Business Insider.

There were multiple lawsuits against his firm over pay and overtime. And, the nomination fell apart before Puzder even faced any questions about his early background at a firm owned by the late Morris Shenker -- a lawyer and casino owner with reputed mob connections.

Shenker was accused by the Labor Department of blowing $25 million in union pension funds on shadowy investments, and Puzder led the defense, according to recent published reports. Shenker filed for bankruptcy after a $34 million court verdict against him in the case.

Puzder’s statements on labor matters seemed to be well enough in line with the Trump administration, even if they irked members of the Senate’s Democratic minority. For example, he opposed a $15-per-hour minimum wage and blasted Obamacare.

Still, Puzder’s support among the Senate’s GOP majority, by all accounts, fell apart and he withdrew his name.

At first glance, attorney and law school dean Alexander Acosta, whom Trump named for labor secretary Thursday, is expected, in contrast to Puzder, to face relatively little trouble winning Senate confirmation — apparently fitting the bill ideologically without toting the personal baggage.

If confirmed, Acosta would be Trump’s first Latino cabinet member.

Acosta was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida until 2009. He’s now dean of Florida International University College of Law. Under President George W. Bush, he served as assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. He’s also served on the National Labor Relations Board.

Pending confirmation hearings, the question becomes why Acosta wasn’t the first pick for the post.

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