A Senate committee advanced the nomination of President Trump's labor secretary in a party-line vote Tuesday morning.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) voted 12-11 to formally nominate Eugene Scalia, son of the late Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, to lead the Department of Labor. Chairman Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) dismissed objections from Democrats and praised Scalia's credentials, as well as his transparency in answering more than 400 questions from senators in a lengthy vetting process.
"Mr. Scalia is well-qualified to lead the department," Alexander said. "He's spent the majority of his career working on labor and employment and regulatory matters. Businesses and workers need a secretary of labor who will steer the department with a steady hand and I believe Mr. Scalia could do so."
Democrats have criticized Scalia because he would not commit to liberal policy agendas such as a higher minimum wage.
Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.), the committee's ranking member, said the nominee would be a "secretary of corporate interest, not a secretary of labor."
"Mr. Scalia's career as an elite corporate attorney prepares him to be the exact opposite of what workers need today in a secretary of labor," Murray said. "Mr. Scalia will be a ‘yes' man for President Trump's anti-worker agendas."
Scalia served as the solicitor of labor, the third-ranking officer in the department, during the George W. Bush administration before becoming a partner at the law firm Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher. He testified to the committee on Sept. 19 that he advocated for workers' rights as the solicitor of labor and supported enforcement efforts related to low wages and protecting whistleblowers in the garment industry.
"The most affecting part of the job for me was encountering individual workers in sometimes tragic circumstances, and recognizing the capacity we had to respond," he told the committee. "The construction workers killed in trenching accidents. The 12 miners in Alabama who gave their lives trying to save a co-worker’s. Migrant workers whose sacrifice for their families was preyed upon by others."
Since Trump nominated Scalia, Democrats and unions have accused Scalia of hurting employees as a private attorney and as the agency's solicitor. AFL-CIO, the largest labor group in the United States, wrote that Scalia is the "antithesis of what is required from a Secretary of Labor."
Scalia has received the support of many of his past Labor Department colleagues. More than a dozen officials who worked with Scalia endorsed his nomination, saying that he would make an "outstanding secretary of labor" and would be a champion of worker's rights.
"[Scalia] was very supportive of enforcement litigation to vindicate the rights of workers, both at the trial and appellate levels," they said in a letter submitted to the committee. "He consistently treated us with respect. He was fair, open and honest and listened attentively when we discussed legal issues with him."
The Trump nominee has also received endorsements from industry groups. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce strongly endorsed Scalia as a "superbly qualified and authoritative leader for the Department."
Alexander Acosta, the previous secretary of labor, resigned from office in July after facing public scrutiny for his handling of Jeffrey Epstein's sex crime charges during his tenure as an attorney in Florida.
Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were not present at Tuesday's committee hearing, instead casting proxy votes against the nominee.