WASHINGTON ― Uncertainty about whether the Senate will confirm Andrew Puzder as secretary of labor continues to grow, with at least seven Republican senators now unwilling to say they will support him.
Most of those lawmakers have not actually ruled out voting for the fast-food CEO, but say they are waiting to see his testimony on Thursday. But that’s a far different stance than Republican senators took with the vast majority of President Donald Trump’s other nominees, for whom they voiced support while blaming Democrats for obstruction.
CNN’s Manu Raju reported Wednesday that top Republicans were even asking Trump to drop the nomination. And he suggested that behind the scenes, even more GOP senators were raising doubts:
On Tuesday, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a member of Republican leadership, said he was one of those taking a wait-and-see approach. Later that day, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told The Huffington Post that he, too, was withholding support for the moment. On Wednesday, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) cited Puzder’s employment of an undocumented immigrant as household help, which was first reported by HuffPost, as a decisive factor in his own indecision.
Republicans hold 52 seats in the Senate and can lose only two votes if they are still to confirm Puzder.
Adding to Puzder’s problems, Politico on Thursday obtained a copy of a 1990 “Oprah Winfrey Show” episode in which Puzder’s former wife said he was physically abusive and had “vowed revenge” on her for speaking out. She has since retracted the allegation, but the video is emerging for the first time.
Previously, HuffPost reported that Puzder’s company, CKE Restaurants ― which owns Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. ― has been found guilty of a long stream of labor law violations.
“I’m not a ‘no.’ I’m a ‘listen,’” Thune told reporters on Wednesday.
The GOP whip, Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) was far more bullish on Wednesday. “He’s gonna be confirmed,” Cornyn told reporters, without hesitation.
But when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a famously gifted vote-counter, was asked on Tuesday if he was confident that Puzder would be confirmed, he conspicuously avoided the question. “I’m a strong supporter of Andy Puzder,” McConnell replied.
Thune, Portman and Tillis join GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Tim Scott (S.C.) and Johnny Isakson (Ga.), who reportedly have their own trepidations about Puzder. Collins told reporters on Monday that she is “going to wait until the issues that have arisen are fully explored” at Thursday’s confirmation hearing.
Among those issues are fresh allegations of widespread employment discrimination at fast-food chains owned by CKE Restaurants. Since Puzder took over in 2000, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s have been hit with more federal racial discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuits than any other major burger chain in the country, according to an investigation published last month by Capital & Main, a California-based investigative news outlet.
Even the conservative National Review came out against Puzder. In an unsigned editorial Wednesday, the magazine praised his staunch opposition to minimum wage hikes and “unsympathetic” deflection of “bullying by organized labor,” but railed against his long-standing support for increased immigration.
“Not only is Puzder a representative of the worst reflex of corporate America on one of Trump’s signature issues, he is now significantly weakened,” National Review wrote. “We understand the impulse of the White House and the Senate to try to bulldog through rather than to give obstructionist Democrats a scalp. Yet, all the major Trump nominees have won their confirmation battles. The country, and the administration, can weather a re-do on this one.”