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Trump Nominates Alexander Acosta as Labor Secretary

— February 21, 2017

President Trump nominated Alexander Acosta as Labor Secretary on Thursday.

The announcement came less than a day after the original pick for the position, Andrew Puzder, withdrew his application. Puzder’s credentials and background were called into question by Republican and Democratic senators alike.

The Trump administration feels confident they’ve made the right pick with Acosta. Currently the dean of Florida International University’s law school, Acosta served as an assistant attorney general for the civil rights division of the Justice Department under George W. Bush. He’s been successfully vetted by the Senate three times and is expected to be greeted with wider bipartisan support than Puzder. Acosta is also the first Hispanic to be named as a member of Trump’s cabinet.

A long-time conservative and Harvard Law graduate, Acosta held positions with several right-wing think-tanks. The Washington Post notes that he “served as a fellow for the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative Washington-based think tank, between 1998 and 2000. Acosta is also a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group.”

By and large, Acosta seems like a more popular and less controversial pick than the man originally intended. While the Floridian doesn’t have a spotless track record, his experience and perspectives seem appropriate for a prospective Secretary of Labor.

Andrew Puzder, in contrast, was an outspoken critic of many worker protection regulations which were enacted or improved during the Obama administration. Puzder, who is the chief executive officer of CK Restaurants, which owns Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., opposed increases to the minimum wage as well paid sick leave allowances. The businessman contended that lifting the minimum wage above $7.25 would diminish employment opportunities and cause companies to downsize. Somewhat unexpectedly, Puzder also is a staunch advocate for replacing human employees with robots and other automated systems, on the grounds that they save money and never forget to upsell.

Andrew Puzder and Mike Pence shaking hands; image courtesy of Aude Guerrucci, AP
Andrew Puzder and Mike Pence shaking hands; image courtesy of Aude Guerrucci, AP

The accusations which have been leveled against Acosta by groups such as Allied Progress are tame in contrast. Spokesman Karl Frisch damned the Miami native as “wholly unqualified,” citing a scandal which had been taken into consideration by Florida International University when Acosta was first being considered his current position as dean. Allegations had been leveled against Acosta when he was working with the civil rights division at the Justice Department, suggesting he had made hiring decisions based on political ideology – a contravention of federal hiring law. He also intervened in an Illinois case regarding the use of election poll monitors in impoverished neighborhoods in a move unusual for a man with a federal appointment.

Nevertheless, Republican leaders in the senate seem to feel more comfortable with Acosta than Puzder. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Lamar Alexander of Tennessee praised Acosta’s nomination and background as “impressive.”


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