Andy Puzder confirmed Wednesday afternoon that he will pull himself from consideration for labor secretary. He is the first of President Donald Trump’s nominees to not make it through the confirmation process.
In a statement, Puzder praised the “highly qualified team” of Trump picks that he will no longer be joining.
“I want to thank President Trump for his nomination,” Puzder said. “I also thank my family, and my many supporters ― employees, businesses, friends and people who have voiced their praise and hopeful optimism for the policies and new thinking I would have brought to America as Secretary of Labor.”
The move came as support evaporated among Republicans for the former fast-food executive. At least seven Republican senators refused to publicly back the former chief executive of CKE Restaurants, which owns the burger chains Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, as criticism mounted over his hefty stack of labor violations and long-standing support for increased immigration.
After five separate delays, his confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee was scheduled for Thursday. Puzder is the 13th Cabinet pick in history to withdraw his nomination and the first since Tom Daschle dropped from consideration to head the Department of Health and Human Services in 2009.
Puzder needed support from at least 50 of the 52 Republicans in the Senate, as no Democrats or independents had pledged to vote for him. The nominee could have yielded the closest vote since Vice President Mike Pence cast a historic tie-breaking vote to confirm Education Secretary Betsy DeVos earlier this month.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), one of the Senate’s most vocal opponents of Trump’s nominees, sounded ready for the withdrawal Wednesday.
Labor groups who opposed Puzder’s nomination used the news to remind the president what they hope for in the next labor secretary.
“We urge President Trump to listen to the American people, remain mindful of the promises he made to working families during the campaign and in his inaugural address, and nominate a candidate for secretary of labor who will always put workers first and foremost,” Christine Owens, the executive director of the nonprofit National Employment Law Project, said in a statement. “Any less, and the American people will once again say NO to a secretary who doesn’t speak for America’s workers.”
Puzder was a controversial pick to lead a department with the explicit mission “to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners.” His company repeatedly stiffed its badly paid workers, whom Puzder suggested should be replaced by machines. He opposes raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
“When Donald Trump first tapped Andy Puzder to be labor secretary, fast-food workers told the President that if he sided with fast-food CEOs instead of fast-food workers, he’d be on the wrong side of history,” Darin Brooks, a Hardee’s worker campaigning in North Carolina for the Fight for $15 labor movement, said in a statement. “And today, we are on the right side of history. This is a major victory for the Fight for $15, but we can’t and won’t back down until the Trump Administration gives us a real labor secretary who will put working people over corporate profits.”
After Puzder became CEO in 2000, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s were hit with more federal employment discrimination 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. The company failed to send new workers to staff restaurants after a 2014 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement audit forced the franchises to fire some 1,200 workers in a matter of days, as HuffPost reported.
“It was extraordinary that Trump nominated Puzder in the first place,” Sue Schurman, a professor at Rutgers University’s School of Management and Labor Relations, told HuffPost. “The president ran on his determination to bring jobs back to America. Then he nominates a guy who essentially says ‘my employees are the best of the worst and I’d like to replace them all with technology.’”
Puzder’s personal life became a major point of criticism after his nomination. On Wednesday, Politico obtained a copy of a 1990 “Oprah Winfrey Show” episode in which Puzder’s ex-wife said he was physically abusive and that he “vowed revenge” toward her for speaking out. She has since retracted the allegation. The alleged abuse seemed to compound Puzder’s macho public image, forged from statements about his unabashed love of “boobs and burgers.” His restaurants frequently run TV ads in which scantily clad, large-breasted women chow down seductively on burgers. Adding to his sexualized reputation, he sold his $8 million mansion in California to a porn mogul.
Even the conservative National Review came out against Puzder. In an unsigned editorial published 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,” the magazine’s editors 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.”
This story has been updated with Puzder’s confirmation that he is withdrawing as the labor secretary nominee and reaction to it.