Republicans Seeking Prompt Confirmation Hearing for Acosta

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By Tyrone Richardson

Senators have begun their research on R. Alexander Acosta, President Donald Trump’s new labor secretary nominee, as Republicans seek to move him swiftly through the confirmation process.

Trump tapped Acosta Feb. 16 to lead the Labor Department, less than 24 hours after Andrew Puzder announced he was withdrawing as the nominee. Puzder, chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants Inc., parent company of the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. brands, had faced controversy over his personal life and business background.

Acosta, dean of Florida International University’s law school in Miami, is not well known in Washington circles. That’s not stopping leaders of the Republican-controlled Congress from seeking to confirm him quickly, picking up the pace to get a leader at the Labor Department after Puzder’s hearings were delayed four times due to issues such as disclosure paperwork delays.

Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 16 that he is seeking a “prompt” confirmation hearing for Acosta.

That will happen “as soon as his papers are at the Senate,” he said, referring to the disclosure information that Acosta will need to submit to the independent Office of Government Ethics.

Some senators told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 16 that they weren’t ready to take a position on Acosta, including members of the HELP committee. The lawmakers said they were still researching Acosta, who formerly served as a member of the National Labor Relations Board, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under President George W. Bush and U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

Unfamiliar Name Rises to Nomination

“He has a very impressive background,” HELP member Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 16, adding that she was handed a “sheet of paper” about Acosta moments earlier. “I know he’s been confirmed three times before, and that is all very encouraging, but he’s not someone who I am familiar with, so I look forward to meeting with him.”

Other members of the committee were also trying to gather information on Acosta before giving a firm position on him.

“I look forward to carefully reviewing Mr. Acosta’s qualifications and background, and meeting with him to discuss his plans and vision for the Department,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the committee’s ranking member, said in a written statement Feb. 16. “I have some initial concerns about his record, and especially based on what we’ve seen in past nominees from President Trump, I will continue to insist on a rigorous and thorough vetting process in which Senators get the information we need and have all reasonable questions answered.”

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), chairman of the panel’s Employment and Workplace Safety Subcommittee, told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 16 that “from everything I’ve heard, he sounds qualified,” adding that he would need more time to review all information about the nominee before taking a position on his confirmation.

Isakson’s office later in the day forwarded Bloomberg BNA a written statement saying Acosta would be “good” as labor secretary.

“Alexander Acosta has the background needed to help our economy grow as labor secretary,” Isakson said in the statement. “His previous experience on the National Labor Relations Board and at the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division proves that he knows how to fairly and equitably represent all American values.”

Acosta Labeled a ‘Strong Nomination.’

Though many senators questioned by Bloomberg BNA weren’t immediately familiar with Acosta, Alexander said “he’s a very strong nomination.”

“I think his nomination is off to a good start,” he said. “He’s already been confirmed three times without objections by the U.S. Senate for other positions and he has a distinguished academic and work background.”

It’s not immediately known how Democrats feel about Acosta, but some staunch opponents of the Puzder pick have taken a different tone to the new nominee.

“Unlike Andy Puzder, Alexander Acosta’s nomination deserves serious consideration,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement Feb. 16. “In one day, we’ve gone from a fast-food CEO who routinely violates labor law to a public servant with experience enforcing it.”

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

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