Democrats to Focus on Labor Pick Acosta’s DOJ Record

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By Ben Penn

Senate Democrats are preparing to question labor secretary nominee Alexander Acosta about his role in several Justice Department controversies, a committee spokeswoman told Bloomberg BNA.

Democratic members plan to ask Acosta about an independent report finding that he oversaw politically motivated hiring at the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, Helen Hare, spokeswoman for Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said March 20. Some Democrats will query Acosta on whether the allegations of politicized decision-making would allow him to fulfill the Labor Department’s mission in the face of pressure from President Donald Trump.

Acosta’s first confirmation hearing before the committee is scheduled for March 22 at 9 a.m.

The panel’s 11 Democratic caucus members—which include Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.)—also want to question Acosta about his controversial intervention in an Ohio lawsuit four days before the 2004 election, Hare said. Acosta, then assistant attorney general for civil rights at the DOJ, wrote to the judge to defend the legality of a state law that allegedly permitted voting suppression of minorities.

The Senate panel’s Democrats are equally curious to learn about Acosta’s views on vital DOL policies, such as minimum wage, overtime and equal pay, the committee spokeswoman added. That includes asking about recent reports that undocumented workers are fearful to assert their workplace rights because of the strict immigration enforcement climate.

There’s also a desire to examine Acosta on the White House’s budget blueprint, which calls for a 21 percent cut in DOL spending. Lawmakers want to know how that proposal affects the agency’s ability to advocate for workers, Hare said.

“There are lots of concerns about the ways that since taking office President Trump has broken his promises to working families, and Democrats will be interested to what extent his nominee for the Department of Labor is willing to stand up for workers,” she said.

GOP Wants Commitment on Obama Regs

When the HELP Committee’s 12 Republicans question Acosta, expect the focus to switch to seeking commitments on unwinding several rules recently finalized by the DOL under President Barack Obama.

“Senator Alexander looks forward to discussing Mr. Acosta’s views on creating an environment for American workers to succeed in a rapidly changing workplace, and the importance of rolling back the Obama-era labor regulations which have made it harder for Americans to create, find, or keep good-paying jobs,” Taylor Haulsee, a spokesman for committee chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), told Bloomberg BNA via email.

Haulsee didn’t specify which rules Alexander wants to discuss. The DOL moves most likely to be the focus for GOP members at the hearing are a regulation to expand workers’ access to overtime pay and another to tighten conflict-of-interest restrictions on retirement investment brokers.

Republicans are also expected to query Acosta on the proper balance of compliance assistance versus punitive enforcement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Penn in Washington at bpenn@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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