Senate confirms Alex Acosta as Labor secretary

His confirmation came at a key moment for President Trump – just two days before he reaches the symbolic 100-day marker – filling out the president's cabinet.

Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters
Alex Acosta, President Trump's nominee for secretary of Labor, testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. in March. A vote by the Senate on Thursday confirmed him to be the 27th Labor secretary.

Alex Acosta has been confirmed as the nation's new Labor secretary, filling out President Trump's cabinet as he approaches his 100th day in office.

A 60 to 38 vote by the Senate on Thursday confirmed Mr. Acosta to the post. Once sworn as the 27th Labor secretary, the son of Cuban immigrants will lead a sprawling agency that enforces more than 180 federal laws covering about 10 million employers and 125 million workers.

Sen. Tim Scott (R) of South Carolina spoke for many Republicans with a statement issued just after the vote saying he hopes Acosta's focus will be "promoting labor policies that are free of unnecessarily burdensome federal regulations." Senator Scott said he wants Acosta to permanently revoke rules governing financial advisers and adding Americans eligible for overtime pay.

Democrats said any Labor secretary should advocate for the American workers to whom Mr. Trump promised so much during his upstart presidential campaign. They said Acosta has given no such commitment.

"Acosta failed this basic test," tweeted Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) of Massachusetts.

Acosta has been a federal prosecutor, a civil rights chief at the Justice Department and a member of the National Labor Relations Board. He will arrive at the top Labor post with relatively little clear record on some of the key pocketbook issues facing the administration, such as whether to expand the pool of American workers eligible for overtime pay.

Acosta wasn't Trump's first choice for the job. Former fast food CEO Andrew Puzder withdrew his name from consideration last month, on the eve of his confirmation vote, after becoming a political headache for the new administration.

Mr. Puzder acknowledged having hired a housekeeper not authorized to work in the US and paying the related taxes years later – after Trump nominated him – and came under fire from Democrats for other issues related to his company and his private life.

Acosta's ascension would come at a key moment for Trump, just two days before he reaches the symbolic 100-day marker. The White House has sought to cross the threshold with its own list of Trump's accomplishments.

Trump can say the Acosta vote was bipartisan, because eight Democrats and one independent voted yes. Joining the Republicans in his favor were Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Bill Nelson of Florida, Jon Tester of Montana and Mark Warner of Virginia. Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine also voted for Acosta.

Labor secretary is the last cabinet post for Trump to fill. Trump's choice for US trade representative, a job considered Cabinet-level, is awaiting a Senate vote.

From the beginning, Acosta's was a quiet march to confirmation that stood out because it didn't attract the deep partisan battles faced by some of Trump's other nominees, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Justice Neil Gorsuch's nomination provoked such a fight that majority Senate Republicans used the "nuclear option" to remove the 60-vote filibuster barrier for Supreme Court picks.

Thursday's vote marks the fourth time Acosta has been confirmed for the Senate.

Democrats and most labor groups were mostly muted in their response to Acosta's nomination. At his confirmation hearing, Democratic Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Sen. Warren hammered Acosta for answers on a selection of issues important to labor and whether Acosta would cave to political pressure from Trump. Acosta refused to answer the policy questions until he's confirmed, and he vowed to be an independent and fair voice for workers. Both senators said they had great concerns, and both voted no.

Our standard can't be 'not Puzder,'" Senator Murray said Wednesday on the Senate floor.

But tellingly, even as Acosta's nomination wound through the Senate, Democrats and their allies also tried to move on to other, labor-related issues – namely, a minimum wage hike to $15 an hour, which Trump opposes.

Meanwhile, the Labor Department's online landing page bears a glimpse of Acosta's policy priorities: "Buy American, Hire American."

That's the title of Trump's executive order this week directing the secretaries of labor and other agencies to issue guidance within 60 days on policies that would "ensure that, to the extent permitted by law" federal aid "maximize the use of materials produced in the United States, including manufactured products; components of manufactured products; and materials such as steel, iron, aluminum, and cement."

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