President Trump’s streak of success in getting controversial cabinet nominees through a closely divided Senate broke on Wednesday, with the news that Andrew Puzder will remove his name from consideration for the position of Secretary of Labor. The news arrives in the midst of a tumultuous week for the new administration, which is facing calls for Congressional investigations into connections between the president’s campaign staff and Russian intelligence officials.
Puzder’s nomination has long had a question mark hanging over it. The wealthy CEO of the CKE fast food restaurant chain, Puzder was very slow to submit his financial disclosure forms and other documents necessary for an ethics screening. He also faced severe criticism from both sides of the aisle in Congress for various positions he has taken over the years.
Democrats wanted to block Puzder because they saw his nomination to head the Labor Department as an insult to workers. Puzder is anti-union and has called for the abolition of minimum wage laws, positions Democrats saw as antithetical to the Labor Department’s mission “To foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.”
Many Republicans were baffled by the choice because of Puzder’s history of advocating immigration reforms that would make it easier for low-skilled people from other countries to enter the US legally and find work. Trump had campaigned on a stridently anti-immigrant platform, promising to build a wall on the Mexican border and to deport millions of undocumented immigrants.
In recent days, allegations of spousal abuse that arose in a divorce proceeding decades ago were raised after former television host Oprah Winfrey provided members of Congress with a recording of an interview with Puzder’s ex-wife in which she made claims of physical abuse.
The decision to pull out of the nomination process came as Puzder was approaching his long-delayed Senate confirmation hearing. A source told CBS News that the nominee was “very tired of the abuse.”
His departure deprives Trump of a Labor Department chief who shares his unique views about the way employment is measured in the US, but who was rapidly losing support from Congressional Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly told the administration on Wednesday that he did not believe Puzder had the votes to be confirmed by the whole Senate because as many as seven Republicans were planning to vote against him.
Under normal circumstances, the defeat of a cabinet nominee would be a major blow to a new presidential administration. But the way things have been going for the Trump White House in the last 48 hours, there’s a non-trivial chance that the failure of the Puzder nomination feels less like a defeat than a welcome distraction.