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President Biden’s nominee to run the Labor Department, Julie Su, is facing an uphill climb toward confirmation as lawmakers prepare for a bruising battle in the coming weeks once the Senate returns from recess.
Congress heads into a two-week break with a few moderate Democrats concerned over if she’s the right person for the job, leaving her below the threshold of 50 votes needed for confirmation.
“I think it’s going to take some work,” Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said about getting her confirmation over the finish line. “It’s sort of what they used to say about the NFL — on any given Sunday.”
Biden nominated Su in February to replace Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, who is the first Cabinet secretary in the line of succession to leave his post since the start of the Biden administration.
Su’s last confirmation process was a prelude to her tough road ahead now. She was confirmed by the Senate to serve as deputy secretary of Labor in a vote along party lines in July 2021, having won no GOP support. That is likely to be the same case this time around if her confirmation comes up for a final passage vote.
Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), a HELP Committee member, told The Hill that he expects “a pretty significant” fight over the Labor nominee’s future.
“I mean, let’s say, what is there that may not be?” Braun said when asked what Republicans find objectionable about her nomination.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), the ranking member on the HELP Committee, specifically pointed to Su’s stance on independent contractors and the gig economy. During her time in California, Su was a leading proponent of California’s Assembly Bill 5 law that introduced a three-stage test to prove a worker is an independent contractor rather than an employee.
Republicans are also critical of her handling of California’s unemployment insurance program when the state paid out billions in fraudulent claims.
“It’s actually the pressure of the issues,” Cassidy told The Hill of what could doom her nomination. “For all those gig workers who strongly object, that’s where the pressure comes from. We can’t pressure Democrats. But a lot of the Democratic senators are going to side with freedom or are going to side with unions. That’s kind of what it comes to.”
Su would be the first Asian American member of Biden’s Cabinet if confirmed, and the administration is currently the first in more than 20 years not to have an Asian American Cabinet secretary. She has support from both the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and the Asian American Action Fund, as well as the Congressional Black Caucus.
Su has also been supported by major unions who want to see her confirmed as their top advocate in the White House, including the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Fraternal Order of Police.
Despite her many endorsements, her nomination will very likely come down to what moderate Democrats think of her. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has indicated that he will wait to make a decision on her until after her April 20 confirmation hearing before the HELP Committee.
“I haven’t gotten into that yet; I’m waiting till her hearing’s over,” Manchin recently told Bloomberg Law.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) told The Hill that he has yet to review her nomination.
“Somebody who will protect workers and help small businesses and big businesses,” Tester said when asked what he’s looking for in a nominee. “I’ve got to look at her record. … I just haven’t had a chance to look at it.”
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), who left the Democratic Party late last year, has a policy of not previewing her votes.
All three are up for reelection in 2024 and are considered the group who could make or break Su’s future.
The president has had a tough time getting his nominees confirmed recently.
Two withdrew their nominations in the past month — Phillip Washington, Biden’s pick to lead the Federal Aviation Administration, and Gigi Sohn, Biden’s pick to serve as the top telecommunications regulator for the Federal Communications Commission.
GOP pressure campaigns and the lack of support from the same group of moderate Senate Democrats led to the demise of their nominations.
Another blow to Biden is that several nominees for Defense Department roles are being held up in the Senate this week over the Pentagon’s abortion policy, which aims to provide paid time off and travel reimbursement for service members.
The White House overall has confirmed more than 800 nominees so far, according to a White House official. Earlier this month, the Senate confirmed U.S. Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti after a two-year battle.
Biden isn’t backing down from his support for Su. The White House has touted that she was a critical partner to Walsh at the Labor Department and is the right person to take over the job.
“Over several decades, Julie has led the largest state labor department in the nation, cracked down on wage theft, fought to protect trafficked workers, increased the minimum wage, created good-paying, high-quality jobs, and established and enforced workplace safety standards,” a White House official said.
And a number of Senate Democrats are still confident she’ll get across the line. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the chairman of the HELP panel, told The Hill that he “look[s] forward to seeing her as our next secretary of Labor.”
“She’s a very strong nominee,” Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), a committee member, said in a brief interview. “She’s got great experience at the state level and labor law and labor policy in California. I think she’s done a great job here in Washington. She has a good background for it and is a person who is really committed to public service.”
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Biden’s nominee for Labor secretary on shaky ground in Senate
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