Biden Taps Scandal-Plagued Official to Lead Labor Department

As California labor chief, Julie Su oversaw billions in fraudulent unemployment payments

Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for One Fair Wage)
February 28, 2023

President Joe Biden nominated deputy secretary Julie Su to serve as secretary of labor, a pick that could face bipartisan pushback over Su's ties to California's multibillion-dollar unemployment fraud scandal.

Until approved by the Senate, Su will serve as acting secretary and replace Marty Walsh, who is leaving the administration to run the National Hockey League Players’ Association. Su has served as deputy since July 2021 and previously led California's labor department.

As California's secretary of labor, Su oversaw billions of dollars in fraudulent payments through the state's unemployment system, the Washington Free Beacon reported. The extensive fraud, broken websites, and more than a million unprocessed claims in the California system led to bipartisan criticism in Su's 2021 Senate confirmation hearing.

"California is not a model to emulate for the rest of the country," said then-senator Richard Burr (R., N.C.). "What's worse about the fraud committed on California and the U.S. taxpayer is that it was entirely preventable." The Senate narrowly approved Su's nomination in a 50-47 vote.

Su’s appointment satisfies the Biden administration's need for diversity, the AP reported:

Biden had been under pressure from the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and other Asian American and Pacific Islander advocates to select Su to head the department. This administration was the first in more than two decades to not have a Cabinet secretary of AAPI descent, despite its regular declarations that it was the most diverse in history. Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai are of AAPI descent but don’t lead a Cabinet department.

Su, if confirmed, would also expand the majority of women serving in the president’s Cabinet.

Biden pointed to Su's role in the negotiations between the administration and rail workers in late 2022. While Biden has touted the averted strike, rail workers said he "turned his back on us" for leaving out paid sick leave.