Puzder Goes One-on-One With Lawmakers Ahead of Confirmation Hearing

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By Tyrone Richardson

Labor Secretary-designate Andrew Puzder is making his way through the 23 members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, sharing his policy ideas and priorities ahead of his HELP confirmation hearing.

Puzder, the chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants Inc., was spotted on Capitol Hill in recent weeks with Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the ranking member of the HELP committee, among others. Outside the committee, he has also met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

“As Mr. Puzder continues to have productive discussions with senators, support for his confirmation continues to grow,” a Trump transition team aide told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 13. “We look forward to the HELP Committee taking up his nomination in the next few weeks.”

Such meetings are a common practice for Cabinet nominees, offering the designate a chance to drum up support ahead of the hearings. So far, Puzder’s meetings have drummed up apprehension in some Democrats and praise from Republicans seeking help to unwind many Obama regulations, including the overtime rule.

Puzder’s HELP committee hearing was tentatively scheduled for Jan. 17 but has been postponed and could be pushed to February because of the Senate calendar. If the panel approves him, his name goes to the Senate floor for a simple majority vote.

The string of one-on-one meetings also comes amid growing opposition to Puzder’s nomination, including Democrats saying he isn’t fit to police workplaces as labor secretary. Opposition has also included workers protesting at some Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurants. The two fast-food brands are part of CKE Restaurants.

Puzder is expected to have more one-on-one meetings with other senators in coming days, including HELP members Christopher S. Murphy (D-Conn.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.), Senate aides told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 13.

Reactions Tend to Follow Party Lines

Puzder is expected to get full Republican support from the HELP committee.

But count Democrat Murphy as one of the HELP committee members eager for Puzder to go through intense scrutiny at his confirmation hearing.

“There’s really no nomination that’s more of a head-scratcher to me than Puzder,” Murphy told Bloomberg BNA. “I just can’t imagine why someone with contempt for workers would be put in charge of the agency.”

The senator cited a record of labor law violations at Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurants and added that there may be more revelations once he submits his background check. “We still have a lot more information that we need to get here,” Murphy said.

Many of the investigations involving DOL’s Wage and Hour Division have pertained to franchisee-owned stores.

Murphy’s comments come as the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United published a Jan. 10 report saying one-third of the more than 500 workers it surveyed reported wage violations, and other mistreatment on the job.

The ROC report came the same day the Employment Policies Institute published a survey concluding that 91 percent of nearly 250 employees participating agreed that Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s are “great places to work.”

Republicans Applaud Puzder’s Views

Some Republicans on the committee told Bloomberg BNA they were impressed with Puzder during their meeting. That includes Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), chairman of the subcommittee on employment and workplace safety.

“I’m for him,” Isakson told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 10. “I’m impressed with his record and what he thinks about business formation, employment and employees. I don’t know if it will be bipartisan support for him, but I’m going to vote for him.”

If confirmed, Puzder will be tasked with helping Republican lawmakers address the DOL’s controversial rule to expand overtime to more workers and the fiduciary rule that imposes new conflict-of-interest restrictions on retirement investment brokers.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) also said he was impressed with his discussion with Puzder and the “priorities he saw.”

“I think he embraced the concept of going from the labor head to workforce development and he has a pretty clear focus on helping the most vulnerable folks in our workforce find a path, and I thought he did a very good job,” Scott said.

Scott stopped short of saying whether he would vote for Puzder. He said he “likely” would, adding, “We will still have to finish our homework.”

Puzder Contributed to Political Campaigns

Scott is one of the 17 sitting senators who have received a total of $151,659 in campaign contributions from Puzder since 1990, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. The $1,000 that Puzder supplied to Scott’s campaign is among the lowest donations, according to the data.

It’s not known whether Puzder’s contributions could give him a big leg up when it comes to the confirmation voting. But the question of conflicts of interest for supporting a sitting senator’s political campaigns could come up during the confirmation hearing, Professor Victoria Nourse of Georgetown University Law Center told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 9.

Puzder was also scheduled to meet with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) Jan. 12, who’s one of the newest members of the committee.

Kaine told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 10 that he was interested in speaking about issues ranging from wages to the federal workforce, which is heavily concentrated in Virginia.

“I’m very interested in many of the things my fellow committee members are interested in with overtime and minimum wage,” Kaine said, adding that he’s also interested in issues involving federal employee “whistle-blower protections and things like that.”

Kaine and members of his staff weren’t immediately available for comment Jan. 13.

—Ben Penn contributed to this report.

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.

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