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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Four U.S. Republican senators have not yet said whether they will support labor secretary nominee Andrew Puzder, raising suspense about whether he will survive an initial confirmation hearing this week.

The four senators – Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Tim Scott of South Carolina, and Johnny Isakson of Georgia – all sit on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, which will on Thursday hold the first confirmation hearing for Puzder, President Donald Trump’s pick to head the Labor Department.

Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants, which franchises restaurants, including Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, has faced staunch opposition from Democrats and protests from union-backed groups about policies at CKE’s food chains. Along with now-confirmed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, he has been one of Trump’s most controversial Cabinet picks.

Through statements and spokespeople on Monday, the four Republican senators indicated they have some outstanding questions for Puzder, but stressed they had not made a final decision. They would not say whether they had specific concerns.

If a committee majority backs Puzder’s nomination, he will come up for a vote before the full, Republican-controlled Senate, where his confirmation could only be derailed if at least three Republicans break with their party.

Puzder’s committee hearing has been postponed several times amid delays with his ethics paperwork.

Fast food worker advocates say they are concerned about his prior criticism of an overtime rule proposed by the Obama administration and his opposition to raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour from the current $7.25 rate. Puzder’s nomination has sparked protests by workers who allege CKE has stolen their wages and violated other labor laws at Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. locations around the country.

Puzder has also come under fire for racy restaurant ads featuring bikini-clad women eating burgers, and for his admission to previously hiring an undocumented worker.

In addition, a non-profit group plans to ask a Missouri court on Tuesday to unseal Puzder’s divorce records, after the news media reported on old court records in which Puzder’s ex-wife accused him of physical abuse.

Puzder has denied those allegations, and his ex-wife has since retracted them.

Senate Democrats, led by Minority Leader Charles Schumer, are expected to vigorously oppose Puzder’s nomination, and Schumer has repeatedly called on Puzder to withdraw his name from consideration.

But the 48 senators who caucus with the Democrats can only defeat him if they are able to convince three Republicans. Last week, both Collins and Murkowski joined with Democrats to oppose DeVos’ nomination, but Vice President Mike Pence was called in to break the tie and she was confirmed.

“I’ve had two conversations with Mr. Puzder. I think there are outstanding questions that I’m sure will be delved into at his hearing,” Collins said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for Murkowski said the senator “wants to know more” about Puzder, while a spokesman for Isakson said he is “taking all the facts under consideration before making his decision.”

A spokeswoman for Scott said he has consistently declined to comment on all nominees in advance of their hearing.

Puzder, meanwhile, has no plans to withdraw his name from consideration, according to his spokesman George Thompson.

“Andy is so looking forward to his hearing. He will finally have an opportunity to express his commitment to workers and to businesses and to ensure that folks know his true record for protecting workers and creating jobs,” Thompson said.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Amanda Becker; Editing by Mary Milliken)

IMAGE: Andrew Puzder speaking at the 2016 FreedomFest at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, Nevada. Flickr / Gage Skidmore

Poll: Most Parents Oppose Rapid School Reopening

Numerous local school systems around the country are plowing ahead with plans to resume in-person instruction despite growing evidence that children are just as capable of spreading the coronavirus as adults.

Classes were set to begin on Monday in Baker County, Florida. Masks for students will be optional, not required. "It looks like it's back to normal this morning, honestly," a local television reporter observed as parents dropped their kids off in the morning. Many students wore no face coverings.

The Trump administration and the GOP have pushed for full reopening of schools for months."Schools in our country should be opened ASAP," Donald Trump tweeted in May. "Much very good information now available."

"SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!" he reiterated on July 6.

"The science and data is clear: children can be safe in schools this fall, and they must be in school this fall," demanded Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) on Aug. 1.

"I believe our schools can, and should rise to the occasion of re-opening for in-person education this fall," agreed Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) two days later.

"The CDC and Academy of Pediatrics agree: We can safely get students back in classrooms," tweeted House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) last Tuesday.

But while Scalise, Mike Pence, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have all cited the American Academy of Pediatrics in their arguments for reopening, a new study by the group and the Children's Hospital Association raises red flags about how safe that will be.

Their report found 338,982 reported coronavirus cases in children as of July 30 in the United States. Between July 16 and July 30, the nation saw a 40% increase — 97,078 new infected children.

Last week, a high school student in an Atlanta suburb posted a photo online showing few students wearing masks in a crowded school hallway. Since that time, at least six students and three adult employees in the school have reportedly contracted the coronavirus, and the school temporarily has switched to online classes.

Another Georgia school district has already seen at least 13 students and staff members test positive since reopening a week ago.

A recent study in South Korea found that children aged ten and older spread the coronavirus at the same rates adults do. A separate study in Chicago suggested young kids might also be effective spreaders.

These contradict the false claims made by Trump and his administration that kids have an "amazing" near immunity to COVID-19.

"If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely, but almost immune from this disease, so few. They've got stronger, hard to believe, and I don't know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this," Trump told Fox News on Wednesday.

"You got to open the schools. They have a stronger immune system even than you have or I have," he told Barstool Sports on July 23. "It's amazing. You look at the percentage, it's a tiny percentage of one percent. And in that one case, I mean, I looked at a couple of cases. If you have diabetes, if you have, you know, problems with something, but the kids are in great shape." Children have made up nearly nine percent of all cases, even with schools mostly closed.

And DeVos incorrectly said in a July 16 interview, "More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don't get it and transmit it themselves."

In early July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for how schools could operate more safely during the pandemic.

Trump publicly ridiculed the guidelines, dismissing them as "very tough & expensive" and "very impractical."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.