A Grownup at the DOL

02/17/2017 04:41 pm ET
Secretary of Labor nominee Alexander Acosta
Secretary of Labor nominee Alexander Acosta

The ink was barely dry on Andy Puzder’s withdrawal notice by the time President Trump, our Disruptor in Chief, put forward his next candidate for U.S. Secretary of Labor. After nearly two months of teeth gnashing over the insanity of Puzder’s nomination, labor advocates far and wide steeled themselves against the introduction of another unfit anti-labor bottom feeder.

Surprise! Trump’s pick of Florida International University College of Law Dean Alexander Acosta felt like the decision of a grownup who had actually done some research. At first blush, Alexander Acosta looked like a candidate who had qualifications and could perhaps even do some good in the office. I’m tempering my optimism here (or at least my lack of disgust) against any about-to-break revelations over Acosta’s character or qualifications that should be hitting the news, oh, 15 minutes ago.

For the moment, things look OK. Acosta served on the National Labor Relations Board and in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights division. Not only was he the first Latino to serve as an assistant attorney general for the U.S. government, during his tenure, he testified before Congress about the importance of protecting the civil liberties of Muslim Americans.

Let me repeat that…if the Senate HELP committee signs off, Donald Trump, our wall-building, immigrant-hating president will hand the Department of Labor’s keys to a Cuban-born Latino who has urged Congress to remember that when considering the rights of Muslims, “foremost we are all Americans.” Did I miss something? Are we through the looking glass again?

Of course, six-year-old testimony from the congressional record carries very little weight when we’re facing such issues as the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, federal right-to-work legislation, the fight to raise the minimum wage and possible threats to overtime regulations. His character issues aside, part of the torrent of criticism leveled against Puzder was the allegation that he sneered at the rights of the working class whose rights he would now be forced to champion. Puzder’s disdain for workers was bad enough. The idea that he reflected Trump’s was even worse.

Is Acosta a perfect or spotless choice? Quite likely, no. We know, for example, that he was involved in a controversial plea deal in 2008 with a billionaire investor (No, it wasn’t Trump) who was accused of having sex with dozens of underage girls. Jeffrey Epstein pled guilty to state charges involving soliciting prostitution and soliciting a minor for prostitution, but a couple of the defendants from that case ended up suing the federal government, saying the plea deal violated the Crime Victims Rights Act. Acosta was never a party to the suit. Epstein, incidentally, had been a long time friend of Trump’s and had been a member at Trump’s Mar-A-Lago.

Having already been confirmed by the Senate on three different occasions, Acosta faces a far less rocky path to confirmation than Puzder, and he certainly has the Republican pedigree. Acosta was appointed to the NLRB by President George W. Bush, he has clerked under Samuel Alito and he has the backing of one-time Trump adversary Sen. Marco Rubio. Speaking to Politico, NLRB member Wilma Liebman predicted that while unions “might not be thrilled with every decision he’ll make, they’ll get a good hearing.”

Whatever honeymoon Acosta gets won’t last. He’ll need to show his pro worker stripes, and quickly. The stakes are too high.

Expect to hear the words “At least he’s not Puzder,” for the next few days. That can’t be good enough. The bar needs to be higher.

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