WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday nominated law school dean and former federal prosecutor Alexander Acosta as his second choice for labor secretary, an appointment cautiously welcomed by a top labor official but quickly opposed by a civil rights group.
Trump announced he would nominate Acosta — who would be the first Latino in his cabinet if confirmed — at a news conference. Trump’s first choice, Andrew Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants, withdrew Wednesday because he did not have the votes for confirmation.
“He has a law degree from Harvard Law School, was a great student; former clerk for [Supreme Court] Justice Samuel Alito,” Trump said of Acosta, who was not at the announcement. He said Acosta served on the National Labor Relations Board and was confirmed by the Senate three times.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the committee that oversees the Labor Department, said he will schedule a hearing promptly after Acosta’s nomination papers arrive in the Senate.
Acosta also served as assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s civil rights division for two years and as U.S. attorney in Miami for three years during the administration of former President George W. Bush. He became dean of Florida International University College of Law in 2009.
Trump’s nomination of Acosta, a Republican and believer in conservative causes, split allies of Democrats. Also, members of the Senate Democratic caucus may be reluctant to oppose a Latino who is favored by labor unions.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other Senate Democrats had no comment on Acosta.
“Unlike Andy Puzder, Alexander Acosta’s nomination deserves serious consideration,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
“In one day, we have gone from a fast-food CEO who routinely violates labor law to a public servant with experience enforcing it,” Trumka said.
The National Association of Latino Elected Officials called Acosta “an accomplished public servant” who would ensure “there is a Latino voice at the table.”
But Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said, “It is hard to believe that Mr. Acosta would now be nominated to lead a federal agency tasked with promoting lawful hiring practices and safe workplaces.”
In 2008, a Justice Department inspector general report said Acosta failed to “sufficiently supervise” one of his top aides at the civil rights division who illegally used political and ideological affiliations as a litmus test to evaluate job candidates and career attorneys, favoring conservatives and Republicans.
Acosta declined to comment, saying he was a potential witness in an ongoing investigation.
Also Thursday, a senior White House official said Adm. Robert Harward had turned down an offer to be Trump’s new national security adviser, The Associated Press reported. Harward turned the offer down due to financial and family commitments, the official said.
Harward would have replaced retired Gen. Michael Flynn, who resigned at Trump’s request Monday after revelations that he misled Vice President Mike Pence about discussions he held with a Russian diplomat.