Labor Pick Acosta Getting Wait-and-See Response From Senators

From labor disputes cases to labor and employment publications, for your research, you’ll find solutions on Bloomberg Law®. Protect your clients by developing strategies based on Litigation...

By Tyrone Richardson

Labor secretary nominee Alexander Acosta hasn’t garnered the same criticism from lawmakers that his predecessor did before withdrawing from consideration.

Several Democratic and Republican members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee told Bloomberg BNA March 9 that they’re not making an immediate decision on Acosta’s nomination. The confirmation hearing is set for March 15. This response is in stark contrast to several lawmakers’ public denouncement of President Donald Trump’s first choice, fast-food mogul Andy Puzder.

“I’m just starting to look at all the background records, so I haven’t made a decision yet,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the committee’s ranking member. Murray spoke with Bloomberg BNA just moments after a one-on-one meeting with Acosta.

Murray’s homework will likely include reviewing Acosta’s recently filed disclosures, including the letter and report submitted to the independent U.S. Office of Government Ethics. The disclosure documents show Acosta contributed to Republican presidential campaigns and agrees to cut ties to U.S. Century Bank.

Later in the day March 9, Murray’s office sent Bloomberg BNA an email statement citing some concerns about Acosta’s allegiance to the White House.

“As I continue to review Mr. Acosta’s record, I have serious concerns about his ability to be a strong champion for workers’ basic rights, including critical anti-discrimination protections, and to stand up to political pressure—including in an Administration that skirts ethics rules and pressures federal employees—to ensure workers are not being taken advantage of by corporations and billionaires,” according to the statement.

Other Democrats expressed similar concerns, including Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who has told Bloomberg BNA that he believed Acosta “will implement the anti-worker and anti-consumer agenda” of the Trump administration.

Takano is a member of the House Workforce committee, which doesn’t vote on the confirmation.

Acosta Goes to Capitol Hill

The former Justice Department official and National Labor Relations Board member is widely considered a more moderate selection than Puzder and is already seeing a warmer reception from some labor unions and Democrats.

Acosta is expected to get strong support from Republicans, who are anxious for an ally to help undo some controversial regulations from the Obama administration, including a still-pending rule to expand overtime pay. If the HELP Committee approves him, Acosta’s name goes to the Senate floor for a simple majority vote.

Murray is among several HELP members who have met with Acosta this week. Acosta has also met with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

The one-on-one meetings with senators—an effort to drum up support before a confirmation hearing—are common practice for Cabinet nominees.Karina Petersen, a spokeswoman for Murkowski, told Bloomberg BNA March 9 that the senator had a “productive” discussion with Acosta about issues such as “the importance of working people, good jobs, and adequate job training.” “Murkowski believes Acosta knows what it means to have or lose a job and believes someone needs to look out for workers who are simply trying to support a family,” Petersen said. “She is pleased he recognizes Alaska’s unique challenges and opportunities.”

Some Republicans, such as Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), chairman of the HELP Committee’s Employment and Workplace Safety Subcommittee, have publicly voiced support for Acosta’s nomination.

HELP member Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) told Bloomberg BNA March 9 that he has not yet met with Acosta and that he “still has some work to do” to learn his views.

“Some of the earlier reviews by some labor organizations were positive, so that’s significant, but I have to dig into it more,” he said.

Acosta Discloses Bank Ties, Republican Support

The homework for senators includes poring through the newly submitted documents.

The OGE disclosure, published March 9, says Acosta agrees to resign from U.S. Century Bank if confirmed and recuse himself from government involvement with the bank until he’s exercised vested warrants in the company.

Acosta is currently chairman of U.S. Century’s board of directors.

Earlier this week, a separate document submitted to the HELP Committee shows Acosta gave money to Republican presidential campaigns. That includes $2,000 to Trump’s campaign and $2,700 to Jeb Bush’s (R-Fla.) presidential bid.

The documents also show $2,500 for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012 and $1,550 to Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) Senate campaign that year.

--Ben Penn contributed to this story.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tyrone Richardson in Washington at trichardson@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

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.