President Donald Trump’s nominee for labour secretary abruptly withdrew his nomination Wednesday after Senate Republicans balked at supporting him, in part over taxes he belatedly paid on a former housekeeper not authorised to work in the United States.
Fast-food executive Andrew Puzder issued a short statement abandoning the effort, saying he was “honoured to have been considered by President Donald Trump to lead the Department of Labor.”
White House spokesman Sean Spicer declined to comment on possible replacements, but said late Wednesday that the White House had seen the writing on the wall.
“We know how to count,” he said.
Puzder’s nomination became part of a streak of contentious confirmation battles and haphazard White House actions, including a botched rollout of Trump’s executive order on refugees and the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Senator Lamar Alexander, who would have chaired Puzder’s confirmation hearing on Thursday, issued a terse statement saying the nominee would have made an “excellent” labor secretary, but “I respect his decision” to quit pursuing the post. Puzder spokesman George Thompson said his boss was a victim of “an unprecedented smear campaign”.
What troubled majority Republicans most of all was Puzder’s acknowledgement that he had not paid taxes on the housekeeper until after Trump nominated him to the Cabinet post December 9 — five years after he had fired the worker.
Puzder’s spokesman said the nominee had paid the taxes as soon as he found out he owed them. But the discrepancy remained a growing political problem for Republicans and the Trump White House, which has taken a hard line on immigration and taxes.
Thompson said in an e-mail that Puzder informed the White House of the housekeeper matter “after the nomination”. People interviewed during the transition period said they were not asked by Trump’s team to provide vetting information, raising questions about the level of scrutiny.
Ultimately, Republicans made it clear that Puzder did not have the votes for confirmation.
Democrats and their allies welcomed Puzder’s withdrawal, saying his corporate background and opposition to such proposals as a big hike in the minimum wage made him an unfit advocate for American workers at the top of an agency charged with enforcing protections.
They had already made it clear that Puzder’s statements about women and his own workers would be major issues at his confirmation hearing.
Puzder was quoted in Entrepreneur magazine in 2015 as saying, “I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis”. He said the racy commercials for Carl’s Jr., one of his companies, were “very American”.
Democrats also said Puzder had disparaged workers at his restaurants by calling them “the best of the worst”. He was quoted by Business Insider as saying he wanted to try robots at his restaurants, because “They’re always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex or race discrimination case.”
One GOP senator, speaking on condition of anonymity because the conversations were private, said six senators had asked the White House to call off Puzder’s Thursday hearing because they couldn’t see themselves voting for him. That would have put the nomination in jeopardy, since Senate Republicans have only a 52-48 majority and Democrats are solidly opposed.