Andrew Puzder gets burnt: President Trump's pick for labor secretary withdraws nomination

Plagued by allegations of domestic abuse and the revelation that he had hired an undocumented worker, Puzder flees

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published February 15, 2017 10:11PM (EST)

 (AP/Jack Plunkett)
(AP/Jack Plunkett)

Andrew Puzder, President Donald Trump’s controversial labor secretary pick, is the first of Trump's Cabinet nominees to officially withdraw from the running. The announcement came hours after a decades-old clip of Pudzer's ex-wife making damning allegations of domestic abuse on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" was published Wednesday.

In a 1990 talk show episode titled “High Class Battered Women,” Lisa Fierstein, Puzder’s ex-wife, revealed that the former fast food restaurant CEO “vowed revenge” when she made public spousal abuse allegations. Fierstein has since retracted her claims, but Senators have seen the interview:

Divorce records released Tuesday night show that Fierstein accused him of "striking her violently about the face, chest, back, shoulders and neck, without provocation or cause," according to The New York Times.

Puzder was set to face his first hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Thursday morning after being delayed four times due to a multitude of problems with his background checks and ethics disclosures.  A watchdog group was trying to unseal his divorce records before Puzder's confirmation vote. As Salon's Matthew Rozsa reported, it became apparent his nomination was in peril Wednesday when four Republican senators announced they would not vote to confirm Puzder.

"I've expressed my concerns about a number of issues," Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins told Politico.

Puzder, CEO of the parent company of fast food chains Carl's Jr. and Hardee's, faced opposition since Trump picked him for the Cabinet post. Labor unions, which had planned to protest his nomination outside the Senate offices where the hearing was to be held, have argued Puzder would undermine efforts to raise the federal minimum wage, expand the eligibility for overtime pay and enforce wage and hour violations.

"How can he possibly go out and defend workers," Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, complained to NPR, arguing that Puzder would not have enforced labor laws against his own industry.

Even the conservative National Review came out against Puzder Wednesday for his support for expanding legal immigration. They also pointed to the fact that “Puzder employed an undocumented housekeeper for several years and failed to pay related taxes.” Puzder has also advocated creating a path to legal status for undocumented workers living in the U.S., which is also believed to be a cause of concern for many Republican senators -- up to 12 of whom were considering voting against Puzder before his announcement, CNN reported.

Puzder previously said he was "unaware that she was not legally permitted to work in the U.S." and "immediately ended her employment and offered her assistance in getting legal status" when he found out she was undocumented.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott cited "revelations regarding paying employees in cash, illegal immigration and comments regarding some of the American workforce," when he expressed concerns over his potential support for Puzder to GOP leadership.

"The case for his confirmation has diminished to the point of disappearing," the National Review editors wrote of Puzder on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, Puzder released this statement:

After careful consideration and discussions with my family, I am withdrawing my nomination for Secretary of Labor. 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 to 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.

On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called Puzder's withdrawal "a victory for the American worker," adding that "Puzder should never have even been nominated."

"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," the New York Democrat said. "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."

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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