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By Ben Penn
Former fast-food executive Andrew Puzder isn’t ruling out another stab at government service despite having withdrawn from Senate consideration for labor secretary amid controversy six months ago.
Puzder, who retired earlier this year as chief executive officer for Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. brands parent CKE Restaurants Inc., told Bloomberg BNA he plans to continue supporting President Donald Trump’s agenda through regular media appearances. He’s also working on a book due next year that will attack progressive politics and labor unions.
“Right now, I’m doing a lot of surrogate work,” Puzder said when asked about possible future government service in an interview following his speech at the International Franchise Association’s annual meeting Sept. 12. “I will continue to do that, if that’s where I can be most helpful. Wherever they want me, that’s what I’ll do,” he said.
Puzder in February bowed out of his nomination to head the Labor Department, the day before his scheduled confirmation hearing, after it became clear that he didn’t have the 50 votes needed for Senate approval. He ran into trouble on Capitol Hill over his admission that he employed an undocumented housekeeper. A decades-old divorce that included a retracted domestic-abuse allegation also cast a shadow over his nomination.
The Tennessee businessman has since been active on the cable news circuit, pushing Trump’s health-care and tax policies during interviews on Fox News and other networks. Puzder in the IFA speech criticized the left-leaning groups that coordinated to help sink his confirmation as labor secretary. He also called out Republican senators for failing to move legislation.
Puzder told Bloomberg BNA that those same senators are also falling short by not confirming any Labor Department officials other than Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, who got the nod after Puzder withdrew.
“Pat Pizzella needs to be confirmed. You can quote me on this—what the hell are they doing?” he said regarding the deputy labor secretary nominee, who has yet to receive a Senate committee vote. “Alex Acosta is a good guy—we emailed, we get along fine. If I had been the secretary, he would’ve been there for me in a top position. No problem with Alex at all, but you’ve got to have your people.”
“The Department of Labor is huge; it’s staffed with a bunch of Obama employees,” Puzder continued. “They took a bunch of political people and turned them into permanent staff before he left.”
Puzder joins other conservatives who have alleged that as the Obama administration concluded, government agencies converted political personnel to career positions, but evidence of this “burrowing in” practice has never come to light at the DOL.
Even with minimal political personnel, the DOL has begun the process that will lead to the rewriting of several high-profile regulations issued under the prior administration. That includes a rule that would’ve expanded eligibility for time-and-a-half overtime pay to an estimated 4 million workers. A federal judge permanently blocked that rule in August, and the department is now collecting public feedback to inform a possible new rule.
Puzder shared his thoughts on how a new regulation should set an appropriate salary threshold below which workers are automatically eligible for overtime wages.
“You’re probably going to end up between $30,000-$35,000,” he said of the possible new salary level. The Obama rule would have placed it at $47,500, double the current level of nearly $24,000. “Thirty-five thousand is fine in California; it’s too high in Alabama. Since this is a federal rule, you’ve got to come up with the lowest common denominator. It’s got to be a rule that works in states that are suffering economically.”
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