Andrew Puzder – President Trump’s pick to lead the Labor Department — withdrew his name from the Cabinet nomination on Wednesday, ending weeks of bitter accusations and negative stories about the fast food tycoon. Stories about Puzder’s domestic abuse and divorce, his employment of undocumented immigrants, his comments about replacing workers with machines, his opposition to raising the minimum wage, and other questionable business practices finally took their toll on Puzder’s chances for making it through the confirmation hearings, leading the nominee to voluntarily remove himself from the process.
Even Republicans began to question the suitability of the candidate; Senate Republicans told the White House on Wednesday that Puzder was losing support, and recommended that the Trump administration withdraw his nomination. Once Puzder and his team got wind of these discussions, he made the decision himself to cancel his confirmation commitments and then drop out altogether.
“After careful consideration and discussions with my family, I am withdrawing my nomination for Secretary of Labor,” Puzder said. “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’s nomination, had been met with fierce criticism by labor unions early in the process. Christine Owens, executive director at the National Employment Law Project, established the battle lines on Puzder’s business practices this way: “It’s hard to think of anyone less suited for the job of lifting up forgotten workers than Puzder, a billionaire CEO who vocally opposes any meaningful increase in the minimum wage, who talks glibly about replacing workers with machines, and who consistently attacks rules that protect both workers and law-abiding employers.”
Yet in the days that followed his nomination, it began to grow clear that the key criticism of Puzder would focus on his treatment of women, both those he employed as an executive and the woman he divorced in the 1980s.
Reports quickly came to light involving domestic abuse accusations against Puzder during his 1986 divorce proceedings. Lisa Henning, Puzder’s ex-wife, was shown to be “to be credible and believable” in available legal documents. But the nail in the coffin was the emergence of tapes of Henning appearing on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in disguise at the time of her divorce to share her abuse story. When footage of the video interview was shown to senators and then went public on Wednesday, Puzder withdrew his nomination.
Meanwhile, labor advocates pointed out Puzder’s demeaning comments about women, along with the racy ads run by Carl’s Jr (the company Puzder oversaw for years). Puzder defended the ads, which featured scantily-clad models eating giant burgers while washing cars. But damage had been done once the public (and an increasing number of Democratic and Republican Senators themselves) began to question the nominee’s character.
“It certainly raises questions for Democrats that the nominee for Department of Labor would not only advocate for harmful stereotypes about women, but go so far as to say they are at the core of his company’s values,” a Democratic Senate aide told CNN in December. “And given the role that the secretary of labor plays in standing up for women’s rights at work, Republicans should be concerned as well.”
As the drumbeat of negative stories continued, Puzder grew wary and was taken aback by the harshness of politics, a business ally and GOP sources told CNN in January.
Puzder suffered another major setback in early February when he admitted to employing an undocumented immigrant for years – an issue that has sunk a number of other Cabinet secretary nominees in the past.
Though Puzder said he and his wife paid back taxes on the employee, the damage was done and Democrats set in, demanding that the nominee withdraw his name and noting that past Democratic nominees had withdrawn over the same offense.
The balance fully tipped against Puzder when four Republican senators — Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Tim Scott of South Carolina and Johnny Isakson of Georgia – announced that they were withholding their support for Puzder until they got more information. The comments sent shockwaves around Washington, including in the White House, where aides in charge of helping nominees through the Senate spent long nights trying – but failing – to lock up Republican support.
Republican sources explained that they were swamped by labor groups and many progressive businesses that wanted to derail Puzder. In fact, much of the business community itself sat on the sidelines, declining to come to the nominee’s defense.
“There was no campaign to support him or defend him,” a source close to Puzder told the New York Times. “It is unfortunate that the industry did not step up to run a modern day campaign.”
Another Republican source put it more bluntly when blaming business groups: “His entire support network made one TV ad that looked like a welcome video for new Hardy’s employees. … It’s no wonder the unions eat their lunch every time out.”