Following Donald Trump’s wild and wide-ranging 77-minute press conference yesterday, its initial purpose may have gotten lost in all the excitement: he had just nominated a new Labor Secretary.
If Alexander Acosta’s confirmation hearing goes smoothly, as is widely expected, Trump’s new pick will wield great influence over how CEOs manage their day-to-day business. From the outset, it’s unclear what the Florida International University law school dean’s approach will be on key issues, such as the minimum wage and overtime rates. But it was always going to be hard to find a more pro-business candidate than Andy Puzder.
Acosta, who was one of four alternative candidates suggested yesterday by the White House, is a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida. He also was a member of the National Labor Relations Board and was once appointed as an assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil rights division by President George W. Bush.
His nomination by Trump was welcomed by the AFL-CIO, the biggest federation of unions in the U.S.
“Working people changed the game on this nomination,” its president, Richard Trumka, said in a statement. “In one day, we’ve gone from a fast-food CEO who routinely violates labor law to a public servant with experience enforcing it.”
To be sure, Trumka said the union will thoroughly review Acosta’s record in the lead-up to his confirmation.
The Miami local is generally perceived as a relatively safe choice for Trump, left reeling by a few high-profile ejections from his inner circle. During yesterday’s press conference, he made sure to mention that Acosta had successfully made it through three previous Senate confirmation hearings. He also would be the first Hispanic person in the president’s Cabinet.
“Alex is going to be a key part of achieving our goal of revitalizing the American economy, manufacturing and labor force,” Trump said.
Acosta has been attacked by progressives for supporting “vote caging” during the 2004 presidential elections, a process where private citizens could challenge the eligibility of other voters at polling places, many of them African-American.
Trump sent mixed messages about the minimum wage on the campaign trail. On several occasions, he said the current federal level of $7.25 was too low, but on others he warned raising it could harm America’s international competitiveness.
Puzder, the CKE Restaurants CEO, decided to pull out of contention amid revelations that he had employed an undocumented immigrant housekeeper. The recent resurfacing of an old Oprah Winfrey tape raising allegations by his ex-wife of domestic abuse, which were later withdrawn, also unsettled some Republican senators.