President Trump on Thursday announced he was nominating Alexander Acosta to be his Labor secretary, less than 24 hours after his first nominee for the position withdrew amid criticism from Republican senators.
"He has had a tremendous career," Trump said of Acosta in a press conference at the White House, listing off highlights of his nominee's resume. Acosta was not present at the press conference.
"I think he’ll be a tremendous secretary of Labor," the president added, noting that Acosta has gotten through the Senate confirmation process before.
Acosta is a former member of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and is currently the dean of Florida International University’s law school.
A Republican, Acosta served on the NLRB from December 2002 to August 2003 and authored more than 125 opinions, according to his bio on FIU’s website.
A Harvard law graduate, he was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2003 to be the assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.
Acosta was the first Hispanic U.S. assistant attorney general and longest-serving U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
If confirmed, he would be Trump’s first Hispanic Cabinet member.
Trump was scheduled to meet with members of the Republican National Committee (RNC) on Thursday afternoon as a courtesy to discuss possible candidates for the Labor secretary position, a source familiar with discussions said.
Picking Acosta ahead of that meeting, the source said, is a surprise and another example that the White House and the RNC are not on the same page.
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderGroups warn of rural health 'crisis' under ObamaCare repeal Trump’s Army pick faces tough confirmation fight Trump faces risky ObamaCare choice MORE (R-Tenn.) praised Acosta’s nomination, noting he has been confirmed by the Senate three times before.
“He has an impressive work and academic background,” Alexander said. “We will schedule a hearing promptly after his nomination papers arrive in the Senate, and I look forward to exploring his views on how American workers can best adjust to the rapidly changing workplace.”
One day before a scheduled Senate hearing, Andrew Puzder released a statement Wednesday afternoon withdrawing his nomination after it became apparent that he did not have the votes to get confirmed.
Senate leaders had warned the White House that anywhere from four to 12 Republicans planned to oppose Puzder, sinking his chances, according to a CNN report.
Puzder had been under attack by Democrats and labor unions for his record of labor violations as the CEO of the fast food conglomerate CKE Restaurants Inc., which owns the burger chains Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.
And he was sure to face tough questions during his hearing on why he hired an illegal immigrant to clean his home and why his ex-wife Lisa Fierstein had accused him of physically abusing her — accusations she has since retracted.
Democrats hailed Puzder’s withdrawal was a win in its fight to derail Trump's Cabinet nominees after a near-miss on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who was confirmed after a historic tie-breaker vote last week by Vice President Mike PenceMike (Michael) Richard PenceTrump to meet with Australian prime minister next month Ex-acting AG Sally Yates to testify at Senate Russia hearing in May US calls on N. Korea to stop 'destabilizing actions and rhetoric' MORE.
“The fact that someone so anti-labor was even nominated shows how far President Trump is from where he campaigned,” Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerGOP fundraiser enters crowded primary for Pa. Senate seat Dems: Trump risks government shutdown over border wall Miners' union shouldn't look to feds to bail out mismanaged pension fund MORE (D-N.Y.) said after Wednesday’s announcement.
“If President Trump is remotely serious about standing up for workers, he will nominate someone for Labor Secretary that champions workers’ rights rather than suppresses them.”
Business groups were quick to praise Trump for selecting a new nominee so quickly.
“We look forward to learning more about Alexander Acosta and his position on the issues important to the restaurant industry,” Cicely Simpson, executive vice President of the National Restaurant Association, said in a statement.
The National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons called Acosta a “proven leader, who understands the complexities of the modern workplace.”
“We are hopeful that he will listen to manufacturers’ concerns as we work to strengthen employer–employee relationships and provide workers with the right skills to succeed,” Timmons said in a statement.
“In recent years, regulations coming out of the Department of Labor have too often been overreaching and counterproductive, harming manufacturers’ abilities to create jobs and do what’s best for the millions of hardworking men and women employed in manufacturing careers.”
But Allied Progress accused Trump of failing to vet another nominee.
The liberal group pointed to a 2008 report on an investigation into the allegations of politicized hiring and other improper personnel actions in the civil rights division in which the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General said Acosta did not take sufficient action in response to information he was provided about potential problems with the conduct and judgment of his Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bradley Schlozman.
Acosta had received reports that Schlozman had hired unqualified applicants and forwarded a racially insensitive email to other department officials, according to the report.
“Although these incidents did not directly relate to the consideration of political or ideological affiliations in hiring, these matters should have put Acosta on notice of potential problems with Schlozman’s conduct and judgment,” the report said.
The report went on to find that Schlozman, first as a deputy assistant attorney general and then as principal deputy assistant attorney general and acting assistant attorney general, considered political and ideological affiliations in hiring career attorneys in the Civil Rights Division.
"In doing so, he violated federal law – the Civil Service Reform Act – and Department policy that prohibit discrimination in federal employment based on political and ideological affiliations, and committed misconduct," the OIG said in its report.
In a statement, Allied Progress Executive Director Karl Frisch called Acosta “wholly unqualified for the job.”
“We understand that the President is still reeling from his last failed Labor nomination, but that doesn’t mean he should nominate someone who is wholly unqualified for the job,” he said.
“Americans deserve a Secretary of Labor who will fight for workplace safety, fair wages, and the rights of working families. It’s clear Mr. Acosta is not that person.”
Puzder’s withdrawal followed National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's resignations Monday night. Flynn had reportedly misled senior White House officials about his conversations with Russia.
- Updated at 2:39 p.m.