Acosta Moves One Step Closer to Cabinet

Labor nominee clears committee on party-line vote

Labor secretary nominee Alexander Acosta flanked by Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), right, and Ted Cruz (Texas), left / Getty Images
March 30, 2017

Labor secretary nominee Alexander Acosta moved one step closer to confirmation after clearing the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions on Thursday.

Acosta, the dean of the Florida International University law school, passed on a 12-11 party-line vote.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), the committee chairman, praised the nominee in a release, pointing to his family history as evidence he understands the labor market from bottom to top. Acosta is the son of Cuban immigrants and was the first in his family to attend college.

"We are fortunate to have a presidential nominee for Labor Secretary who understands how a good-paying job is critical to helping workers realize the American dream for themselves and for their families," Alexander said in a statement. "The Secretary of Labor should really be called the Secretary of the Workforce because the issue for workers today is not whether they belong to a union, it is whether they have the skills to adapt to the changing marketplace and to create, find, or keep good-paying jobs."

Committee Democrats' united opposition to Acosta stands in contrast to the bipartisan endorsements he has received.

Business groups welcomed the nomination, just as they did Trump's original nominee, fast food executive Andy Puzder, but Acosta also won plaudits from several major labor unions, including the International Association of Firefighters and the Laborers International Union of North America. Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, initially praised Acosta, saying he deserved "serious consideration." He tempered his enthusiasm after Acosta's confirmation hearing, where he jousted with committee Democrats about regulatory rollbacks and wage laws.

"Mr. Acosta's nomination was a major improvement over the previous nominee, based on his qualifications, yet he offered no indication that he would use those qualifications to stand up for workers," Trumka said in a March 22 statement.

Trump tapped Acosta after his first nominee, Puzder, withdrew from consideration following a dogged campaign from labor activists and labor unions. Acosta has been confirmed to three government positions in his career, including a brief stint on the National Labor Relations Board.

Industry groups praised the committee for approving Acosta. The National Retail Federation said that Acosta's confirmation will "help bring back balance at an agency where 'ideological whims' have blocked job creation."

"The sooner we have a new labor secretary in office the sooner employers and employees can see relief from the partisan politics of the past administration that held back job creation," NRF spokesman David French said in a statement. "Alexander Acosta will be a pragmatic leader who will put economic reality ahead of ideological whims and restore fairness and balance to the Labor Department."

Acosta's nomination will now head to the full Senate for a floor vote. He needs a simple majority to be confirmed and is not expected to face universal Democratic opposition; his hometown senator, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.) has already said he will vote to confirm Acosta. Republicans control the Senate 52-48.