WASHINGTON - Fast-food chain executive Andrew Puzder on Wednesday became the first of President Donald Trump’s cabinet choices to fail to win approval as he withdrew amid Republican concerns he did not have the votes needed for confirmation.
Puzder dropped his bid for Labor Secretary as a dozen Republican senators declined to commit to support him after he admitted he had employed an undocumented housekeeper, and court records emerged in which his ex-wife said he physically abused her, although she later recanted.
“After careful consideration and discussions with my family, I am withdrawing my nomination for Secretary of Labor,” Puzder said in a statement. “I am honored to have been considered by President Donald Trump to lead the Department of Labor and put America’s workers back on a path to sustainable prosperity.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, repeated his support for Puzder, a constituent from Franklin, Tennessee.
“Andy Puzder has the experience and ability to make an excellent Labor Secretary, but I respect his decision,” Alexander said. “He understands the difficulties American workers face in a rapidly changing workforce and I look forward to continuing to hear his insights.”
The White House did not comment about Puzder’s decision.
Puzder’s withdrawal came during a difficult week for the Trump administration. Retired Gen. Michael Flynn resigned as national security adviser on Monday evening after admitting he lied to Vice President Mike Pence on talking about sanctions with a Russian official.
Despite Democrats’ objections, the Senate has confirmed nine of Trump’s 15 cabinet nominees, often along near party-line votes. The 52-member Republican majority needs 51 votes to confirm executive appointments.
Puzder, CEO of CKE, the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. fast-food hamburger restaurants, was an unconventional choice to head the Labor Department as an executive who opposed the minimum wage, preferred robots as workers and disparaged his employees.
Puzder said last year he’d like to replace people with technology because “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.”
Twice in speeches in 2011, he referred to the people he hires for his burger restaurants as “the best of the worst. You know, it’s kind of the bottom of the pool.”
He said that raising the minimum wage would drive up employment costs and force companies to cut jobs.
Democrats had mounted a major offensive against Puzder with allies from labor unions and liberal groups.
“Andrew Puzder’s withdrawal as Labor Secretary is a victory for the American worker,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said. “Puzder should never have even been nominated to lead the Labor Department and Senate Republicans clearly recognized this too.”
Puzder was expected to face tough questioning at the committee overseeing labor on Thursday, potentially from both sides of the aisle.
Democrats promised to grill him on his opposition to a minimum wage, and complaints by workers at Hardee’s and Carl Jr.’s restaurants that he cheated them of pay and overtime.
Democrats also planned to show his burger chain ads featuring scantily clad women and to ask him about his employment of an undocumented housekeeper without paying required taxes for five years.
Some Republicans had expressed concern about Puzder’s support for the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill, a view not held by most conservatives, a National Review editorial opposing him said.
The confirmation hearing for Puzder was postponed several times as he has attempted to get his personal financial disclosure report together and enter into an ethics agreement to shed 200 stock holdings and dozens of real estate partnerships and private equity funds.