WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s embattled pick to become labor secretary withdrew his nomination Wednesday amid growing concerns that he did not have the votes to win confirmation.
Andrew Puzder, who heads a fast-food corporation, pulled his nomination from consideration just hours after senior Senate Republican leaders informed the White House that he did not have the votes. Puzder had been scheduled to appear before a Senate committee on Thursday for his confirmation hearing.
“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 and businesses back on a path to sustainable prosperity.
“I want thank President Trump for his nomination. I also thank my family and my many supporters — employees, businesses, friends and people who have voiced their praise and hopeful optimism for the policies and new thinking I would have brought to America as Secretary of Labor. While I won't be serving in the administration, I fully support the president and his highly qualified team."
Puzder had come under fire from Democrats and labor groups over a number of issues, including growing concerns about workplace practices at his restaurants, his admission that he once employed an undocumented housekeeper and allegations of domestic violence leveled by his former wife — allegations that she has since recanted.
The White House had stood behind Puzder, even as the attacks against him escalated. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters that Puzder was an “outstanding choice.”
Some other Republicans, however, have been on the fence.
At least four GOP senators on the committee — Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Tim Scott of South Carolina — have declined to say whether they would support his nomination.
“I have not reached a decision,” Collins said. “I almost always wait until there's a hearing, unless I know the individual well. I've had two conversations with Mr. Puzder. I think there are outstanding questions that I’m sure will be delved into at his hearing.”
Two other Republican senators who aren’t on the committee — Rob Portman of Ohio and John Thune of South Dakota — also said this week they aren’t ready to back Puzder, which could be an indication that doubts about his nomination are more widespread among other members of the GOP.
“No matter how you cut it, there is no worse pick for Labor Secretary than Andrew Puzder, and I’m encouraged my Republican colleagues are starting to agree,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement. “He does not belong anywhere near the Labor Department, let alone at the head of it. Puzder’s disdain for the American worker, the very people he would be responsible for protecting, is second to none."
Puzder, who lives in Franklin, Tenn., is CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. fast-food chains.
Puzder’s critics have said labor practices at his restaurants and his opposition to raising the minimum wage and expanding overtime eligibility should disqualify him from leading the Department of Labor.
They also blasted comments he has made about his workers. He once described his restaurant employees as “the best of the worst” and said he would like to replace them with machines because robots don’t take vacation or file age, sex or race discrimination cases.
On Wednesday, Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the committee that was tol hold his confirmation hearing, joined representatives from the National Women’s Law Center and the National Partnership for Women and Families at a press conference in which they argued Puzder’s record shows he would not uphold women’s rights and safety in the workplace.
Besides the workplace conditions at Puzder’s restaurants and his opposition to raising the minimum wage, Murray and others also blasted Puzder’s defense of racy television ads featuring bikini-clad women that had been aired by his restaurant company.
Murray called the ads disgusting and degrading and said, “A corporate culture grounded in objectifying women has no place in our government or for that matter the 21st century.”
Senators on the committee also have been reviewing a tape of the Oprah Winfrey Show from 1990 in which Puzder’s ex-wife, Lisa Fierstein, claimed that he had abused her during their marriage. Fierstein first made the allegations in the couple’s divorce papers from 1987.
Puzder denied the allegations, and Fierstein later recanted them.