Julie Su, who presided over an estimated $31 billion in fraud as California’s labor chief, heads for a full Senate vote to lead President Joe Biden’s Labor Department.
The Senate workforce committee in charge of vetting her qualifications for the post narrowly cleared her nomination for Senate approval on Wednesday, voting 11-10 along party lines.
The committee's vote tees up a contentious vote on the Senate floor that is by no means certain to go Biden’s way. A handful of Democratic moderates, including Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Mark Kelly (Ariz.), and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), have yet to commit to supporting her.
Su, who currently serves as deputy secretary of labor, has been dogged by her California record since Biden nominated her for the post in February. During her time overseeing California’s Employment Development Department during the state’s pandemic lockdowns, Su froze checks on unemployment claims and failed to stop payment to suspicious accounts, leading to an estimated $31 billion in fraudulent payouts. California’s unemployment insurance fund is now in a nearly $20 billion hole.
Su also worked to implement California’s Assembly Bill 5, known as the anti-gigworker law, which cracked down on many of the state’s independent contractors by forcing them to reclassify as employees.
Senate workforce committee chair Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) praised her record as a staunch union ally ahead of the vote, noting her support for raising the minimum wage.
"I think Julie Su currently and in her role in California and throughout her life has made it clear she’s prepared to stand up for working families," Sanders said.
Republican ranking member Bill Cassidy (La.) questioned Su's competence in light of the fraud that happened under her watch, noted her lack of experience with complex and high-stakes contract negotiations, and said he worried she would bring an anti-business bias to the job.
"Julie Su has an extensive record of partisan activism and promoting policies that undermine workers to the benefit of politically-connected labor unions," Cassidy said. "A qualified Secretary of Labor needs to successfully handle negotiations, manage a department properly, and refrain from partisan activism. I haven’t seen evidence of Julie Su’s ability to do any of those three things."