Andy Puzder, President Donald Trump's nominee for labor secretary, withdrew his nomination on Wednesday amid growing questions about his business record and past personal issues, which drew scrutiny from senators on both sides of the aisle.
Puzder, the head of CKE Restaurants, which owns Hardee's and Carl's Jr., came under harsh criticism from Democrats and liberal groups for his opposition to raising the minimum wage, previous controversial comments and the racy ads his properties have used to promote the fast-food chains.
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Personal issues also complicated the nomination. A 27-year-old video from "The Oprah Winfrey Show" surfaced in which his ex-wife made domestic abuse allegations. The Oprah Winfrey Network released the video, and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions provided several viewings for committee members.
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But it was Republicans who toppled Puzder. On the day before his confirmation hearing was expected to take place, more Republicans withheld support, saying that they’d like to wait until they hear from him in the hearing.
"After careful consideration and discussions with my family, I am withdrawing my nomination for Secretary of Labor. I am honored to have been considered by President Donald Trump to lead the Department of Labor and put America’s workers and businesses back on a path to sustainable prosperity," Puzder said in a statement posted on his website.
Puzder is the first of Trump's cabinet nominees to withdraw his nomination as his passage in the Senate became more tenuous.
Senior administration officials say the demise of Puzder’s nomination became clear over a period of days. "We saw the erosion of the support" in the Senate, an official said.
Advisers say they do not believe the president specifically told Puzder to withdraw. It was described as more subtle than that, with the White House and its nominee seeing the lack of votes to support him. "We know how to count," said an official.
Puzder came under fire from Democrats concerned about his labor practices as CEO of a company that hires mostly low-wage workers and growing concern among Republicans because of his checkered personal past and his hiring of an undocumented worker in his home.
"This is a nominee, who probably is best suited, in terms of experience, knowing what to do at the Department of Labor and how to get the yoke of federal regulations off of everybody. But obviously we’ll bring up one or two concerns,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee with oversight of his confirmation. “I’d like to support him, but I want to go through the hearing."
Roberts was just one of the half dozen Republicans on the committee, which hosts 12 members of the GOP, to express reservations.
Some conservatives also took issue with Puzder's immigration stance, saying it is at odds with Trump. His family also employed an undocumented worker as a housekeeper, though Puzder said he was unaware she was in the country illegally.
The White House disputed the notion that Puzder had not been properly vetted prior to his selection by the president. The information about Puzder's troubles in his decades old marriage and divorce that became an impediment to confirmation had been known to the White House from the beginning, according to aides. They suggested had his confirmation process moved more swiftly, there could have been a different outcome.
Republican concerns coupled with Democrats unified opposition doomed Puzder’s confirmation.
Democrats, reinforced by allies in labor unions, pointed to the high number of complaints by women employees who work for his company. They also took issue with his opposition to minimum wage, overtime protections and paid sick days. They also say he objectified women with his racy television commercials.
Puzder has been unenthusiastic about the grueling process of revealing personal and financial information to the Senate for confirmation. His record has been scoured and his workplace practices have been highly criticized.
His confirmation hearing was postponed four times because he failed to turn in the required paperwork.
Democrats and allied groups fiercely opposed Puzder. They bought television advertisements opposing him, including one that launched Wednesday in Maine and Alaska to target Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski.
Democrats tout Puzder’s defeat as a win.
"There is some good news today for women and workers in America," said Sen. Patty Murray, top Democrat on the HELP Committee, on the Senate floor.
The bar to defeat a nominee has dramatically risen because of rule changes in 2013 that allow cabinet nominees to pass the Senate with the support of 51 senators instead of 60, meaning it takes bipartisan opposition to defeat a nominee.
Labor unions also celebrated his withdrawal. Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO, said Puzder's withdrawal is "great news" for workers.
"We rallied in towns and cities across the country, flooded Senate offices with calls and e-mails and highlighted Puzder’s terrible track record. The American people want a Labor Secretary who will hold employers accountable for paying a fair wage and providing a safe workplace while ensuring our right to a voice on the job," Trumka said.
President Donald Trump is now tasked with naming a new labor secretary.
If President Trump is remotely serious about standing up for workers, he will nominate someone for Labor Secretary that champions workers’ rights rather than suppresses them," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
Looking to a new choice for the cabinet position, aides caution that it's too soon to have a firm short list and the president likes to make a personal connection but acknowledged there are some names floating.
Advisers indicated that Peter Kirsanow, a Cleveland attorney and former member of the National Labor Relations Board and current member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, has already been in their orbit.
Kirsanow was among many job candidates who met then President-elect Trump at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, in November.
Advisers would not confirm other names being publicly reported. Asked about reports that Catherine Templeton and Joseph Guzman were among those being considered, an official would only tell NBC News, "You’re close."
Templeton, South Carolina’s former director of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, visited Trump Tower in New York on Dec. 5. Guzman, assistant professor at Michigan State University’s School of Human Resources and Labor Relations, was seen at Trump Tower on Jan 3.