President Donald Trump nominated former National Labor Relations Board member Alexander Acosta to lead the Labor Department the day after fast food executive Andy Puzder withdrew his nomination.
Puzder was the first career businessman nominated as Labor Secretary since 1981. He withdrew his nomination amid scattered Republican opposition and uniform Democratic opposition.
Acosta, Trump's first Hispanic nominee, has sailed through the Senate confirmation process three times in the past. That experience stands in contrast to many of Trump's other nominees who navigated the process for the first time, including Puzder, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Acosta led the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division under President George W. Bush—a position also held by Obama-era Labor Secretary Tom Perez. Acosta is a graduate of Harvard Law School and is the current dean of Florida International University's law school. He clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and later was appointed to the National Labor Relations Board, the federal government's top labor arbiter. He authored or joined in 125 decisions during his eight-month stint on the board.
Trump praised Acosta's resume at a Thursday press conference, highlighting the fact that Acosta had previously been confirmed with bipartisan support.
"He has had a tremendous career … and has been through Senate confirmation, he's been confirmed very, very well," Trump said. "I think he'll be a tremendous secretary of labor."
The nomination won plaudits from business interest groups. The National Restaurant Association said that the speed with which Trump selected Puzder's replacement was reassuring.
"Given the events yesterday and the important issues facing the Department of Labor, we are pleased President Trump has quickly selected a new nominee for Labor Secretary," said Cicely Simpson, the trade group's spokesperson, in a statement.
Former NLRB member Peter Schaumber told the Washington Free Beacon that Acosta's career largely has been outside the realm of labor law but that his approach to the law left him well-suited for the position.
"Alex is as bright as one can be. He's a quick learner, he knows the law, and comes to fair conclusions," he said.
Schaumber said he expected Acosta to have a less intense confirmation battle, though his record will be scrutinized by Senate Democrats. Puzder's business experience left him vulnerable to attacks from organized labor. Union activists filed more than 30 unfair labor practice complaints against Puzder's restaurant chains, Carl's Jr. and Hardee's, in the month following his nomination.
Those complaints generated headlines, though the company denied wrongdoing, saying that 95 percent of its restaurants are controlled by independent franchisees who handle payroll and work conditions.
Schaumber said that NLRB complaints are commonplace at large companies.
"It's not unusual if you have a business such as Puzder's to have complaints filed at the NLRB. Labor unions are going to exploit that even if it doesn't tell the true story," he said. "Alex doesn’t have that track record. I would suspect he's going to be confirmed. … He doesn’t have the vulnerabilities of being a successful businessman."
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, said he looks forward to starting the confirmation process, which stalled multiple times during Puzder's nomination as the business executive attempted to divest from his business holdings.
"[Acosta] has an impressive work and academic background," Alexander said in a statement. "We will schedule a hearing promptly after his nomination papers arrive in the Senate, and I look forward to exploring his views on how American workers can best adjust to the rapidly changing workplace."