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Labor Nominee’s Hearing Postponed for Trump Event

Alexander Acosta

President Donald Trump has criticized Democrats for delaying his cabinet nominees, but the president's own campaign event could postpone his appointment to the Department of Labor.

Trump opened his first cabinet meeting by criticizing Democrats for blocking key appointments to his administration.

"We have four empty seats, which is a terrible thing. Because the Senate Democrats are continuing to obstruct the confirmation of our nominees for the Department of Labor, the Department of Agriculture, the Director of National Intelligence, and the United States Trade [representative]," Trump said.

However, Trump may have played a role in delaying at least one of these appointments.

Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander postponed prospective Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta's March 16 confirmation hearing in order to participate in a Trump campaign event in his native Tennessee. Trump will visit Nashville on Wednesday to celebrate the 250th birthday of populist Democratic President Andrew Jackson.

The delays in filling key labor vacancies have frustrated labor watchdogs and industry groups. In addition to the Department of Labor, Trump has yet to fill two posts at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a top federal arbiter that oversees union elections and settles workplace disputes. Democrats hold a 2-1 majority on the board nearly two months into the Trump administration, though Trump has appointed Republican Philip Miscimarra acting chairman.

Matthew Haller, a spokesman for the International Franchise Association, said that many employers continue to struggle under Obama-era labor rules and regulations. Obama appointees targeted franchise businesses and the service industry for enforcement in the Democratic president's second term. The Democrat-controlled NLRB broke decades of precedent in 2015 by issuing a ruling that held parent corporations liable for the actions of franchisees and subcontractors, threatening the franchise business model and leaving companies vulnerable to private litigation.

"The sooner a labor secretary is in place, the sooner the regulations impacting small businesses can be rescinded and/or replaced. The same goes for new NLRB members," Haller said. "With so many Obama-era labor regulations continuing to destroy small businesses and American jobs, we are hopeful the administration will make these issues a priority in the coming days."

A White House spokesman said that there have been no developments on the NLRB and directed the Washington Free Beacon inquiries regarding the Tennessee trip to the Trump campaign. A campaign spokesman did not respond to request for comment.

The Labor Department has been Trump's most challenging vacancy to fill in the Trump White House. His original nominee, Andrew Puzder, delayed his confirmation hearing four times in order to divest his holdings as CEO of the privately-held CKE Restaurants, parent company of the Hardees and Carl's Jr. franchises. Democrats and union activists seized on the delays to wage their most aggressive campaign of the new presidency.

Labor groups filed 33 unfair labor practice complaints against CKE to paint Puzder as an enemy of workers—charges CKE denies. Senate Democrats were able to obtain a copy of an old Oprah episode featuring Puzder's ex-wife alleging domestic abuse—she has since retracted those claims. The campaign, as well as the late-breaking revelation that Puzder employed an illegal immigrant nanny, led Republicans to waver on the nomination. Puzder withdrew on the eve of his Feb. 16 confirmation hearing.

The nomination of Acosta, a law school dean, has been smoother. Several labor unions have already endorsed him for the post. The Senate has confirmed him for three previous federal posts and posted his ethics paperwork online on Thursday.

Patrick Semmens, spokesman for the National Right to Work Committee, is not worried about the delay affecting Acosta's ability to get confirmed. He said the larger problem would be attempting to fulfill Trump's pledge to roll back regulations after they have become entrenched in agency culture under the leadership vacuum atop labor agencies.

"Every delay in naming and confirming qualified nominees to the NLRB and Labor Department is a concern," Semmens said. "Overturning the Obama administration's pro-forced unionism policies is more like turning a supertanker than pressing a button, but that needed course adjustment cannot even begin until the vacancies begin to be filled."

Trump has teamed with Congress to target some of the previous administration's more controversial regulations. On Feb. 1, Trump called on the legislature to use its Congressional Review Act power to rescind Obama's executive order that forced businesses bidding on federal contracts to disclose all allegations of labor violations. The Senate voted to rescind the "blacklist" rule on March 6.

Acosta will appear before the HELP committee on Wednesday, March 22 at 9 a.m. The committee is scheduled to vote on the nomination the following week.