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Labor Secretary Nominee Puzder Can’t Take The Heat, Withdraws From Consideration

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In a blow to President Donald Trump as he tries to assemble his administration, his nominee for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, withdrew his name from consideration on Wednesday amid concerns that he could not garner enough Senate votes to be confirmed.

Puzder’s decision to withdraw is yet another setback this week for a White House still grappling with fallout from Monday night’s abrupt resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn, after less than a month in the job.

Puzder, the chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants Inc, which franchises fast-food chains including Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr, has been at the center of a swirl of controversies, complaints, and potential conflicts.

He admitted earlier this month that he and his wife had employed an undocumented person as a housekeeper. He faced a flurry of complaints and legal cases brought in recent weeks and months by workers against his business and its franchises. Most recently, a decades-old Oprah Winfrey tape raising allegations of domestic abuse by his ex-wife resurfaced, though those allegations had been withdrawn.

“After careful consideration and discussions with my family, I am withdrawing my nomination for Secretary of Labor,” Puzder said in a statement.

Puzder’s withdrawal came one day before his scheduled confirmation hearing.

At least seven Republican senators, including Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, declined to publicly back Puzder in advance of the confirmation hearing.

For weeks now, Republican senators have been telling Senator John Cornyn, the second-highest ranking Republican, that they believed some of their colleagues would join Collins and Murkowski in opposing Puzder, according to a senior Senate Republican aide.

DEMOCRATS CHEER

The Labor Department oversees compliance with federal laws that mandate safe working conditions, a minimum hourly wage, overtime wages, and prohibit employment discrimination.

As labor secretary, Puzder would have shaped the department’s approach to these issues, including whether to defend an Obama administration rule expanding overtime pay to millions of workers that has been challenged in the courts.

Earlier this month, Puzder admitted he and his wife had employed an undocumented person as a housekeeper and had to pay back taxes as a result.

Workers at some of CKE’s restaurants have filed claims in recent weeks alleging they were victims of wage theft or victims of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Another possible problem were allegations dating back to 1986 that Puzder had physically abused his now ex-wife, Lisa Henning, now known as Lisa Fierstein.

Fierstein filed for divorce in 1987 and later retracted her allegations, but not before appearing anonymously as a victim of domestic abuse on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Last week, the OWN Network released a copy of that tape to the Senate committee so both Democratic and Republican members could view it, according to an aide.

Democrats on Wednesday cheered over the news of Puzder’s withdrawal.

“From the start, it’s been clear that Puzder is uniquely unqualified to serve as secretary of labor,” said Patty Murray, the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

(Additional reporting by Timothy Ahmann, Richard Cowan, Robert Iafolla and Amanda Becker; Editing by Linda Stern and Leslie Adler)

IMAGE: Andrew Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, takes part in a panel discussion titled “Understanding the Post-Recession Consumer” at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California  April 30, 2012.  REUTERS/Fred Prouser

Labor Nominee Puzder Faces Uncertainty As Confirmation Hearing Looms

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

Senate Panel Finally Receives Ethics Filings For Labor Nominee Puzder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate panel tasked with vetting labor secretary nominee and fast-food executive Andrew Puzder will hold his confirmation hearing on Feb.16, now that his ethics paperwork has been submitted to Congress, a committee spokesman said Wednesday.

Puzder’s certification from the Office of Government Ethics arrived at the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions exactly two months after Puzder was nominated to the job by President Donald Trump.

A spokesman for Puzder, George Thompson, said he expects that Puzder will turn in a separate questionnaire to the committee by Thursday morning.

Puzder is the chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants Inc, which owns primarily franchised restaurants including Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s.

Tentative plans for Puzder’s hearing have been repeatedly postponed amid delays with a review by the Office of Government Ethics.

Those stem from the complexities surrounding how Puzder will divest himself from CKE Restaurants, which is owned by private equity firm Roark Capital Group.

Other companies in Roark Capital’s portfolio include Corner Bakery, Cinnabon, Arby’s, Carvel, and Auntie Anne’s.

Senate Democrats have been highly critical of Puzder, a staunch critic of an overtime rule championed by the former Obama administration.

His nomination has sparked protests around the country by some CKE fast-food workers and the union-backed “Fight for $15” movement to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Workers from a number of CKE’s franchised locations have also complained of wage and hour concerns and other labor conditions in recent weeks.

In a letter to Puzder sent on Wednesday before the ethics paperwork was sent to the Senate, the committee’s ranking Democrat, Patty Murray, said she wanted to receive a “detailed account” of his plans for recusals, divestments, and resignations in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest stemming from his business relationship with Roark Capital Group.

“The franchise model’s pervasive presence in the fast food industry, the frequency of serious labor violations connected with franchising and your past or present financial interest in Roark raise questions regarding your ability to faithfully carry out the Department of Labor’s mandate,” Murray wrote.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; editing by Chris Reese, Leslie Adler and David Gregorio)

IMAGE: Andrew Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, takes part in a panel discussion titled “Understanding the Post-Recession Consumer” at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California  April 30, 2012.  REUTERS/Fred Prouser

Delayed Again: Senate Postpones Hearing For Labor Nominee Puzder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate panel tasked with vetting Andrew Puzder to head the Labor Department has postponed its tentative plans to hold his confirmation hearing yet again, a move that some political strategists say could signal trouble for the fast-food executive.

An aide for the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions said on Tuesday that the panel will not “officially” schedule a hearing “until the committee has received his paperwork from the Office of Government Ethics.”

The committee had planned to hold Puzder’s hearing on Feb. 7. Prior to that, the committee eyed three other possible hearing dates.

Puzder, who is the CEO of CKE Restaurants, is one of several of President Donald Trump’s nominees who has faced particularly strong opposition from Senate Democrats and progressive groups.

His nomination sparked protests by some CKE fast-food workers and the union-backed “Fight for $15” movement to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

George Thompson, a spokesman for Puzder, said Democrats and special interest groups were “obstructing President Trump’s nominees” and that Puzder is “a proven job creator.”

Puzder has criticized an overtime rule championed by the Obama administration and opposes raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Last week, workers at franchised locations of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, which are part of CKE’s restaurant portfolio, filed a range of complaints, alleging wage theft and harassment, among other things.

Additionally, some of CKE’s racy advertisements featuring women in bikinis have caused Democrats to ask questions about how Puzder will address sexual harassment in the workplace.

“I like our ads. I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis,” he was quoted as saying in a 2015 article in Entrepreneur magazine. He added that those ads “did take on my personality.”

Experts say the repeated postponement of Puzder’s hearing and the delays over his ethics paperwork since he was first nominated on Dec. 8 are unusual and could be a sign of problems.

“It is a likely sign that the vetting is turning up problems and they are trying to figure out how to deal with them,” said Matthew Miller, a partner at the crisis management firm Vianovo.

The new delays come on the same day that the same committee voted along party lines to advance Betsy DeVos’ nomination as education secretary to the full Senate floor.

On another Senate panel, meanwhile, Democrats boycotted confirmation votes for Treasury Secretary-nominee Steve Mnuchin and Health and Human Services Secretary-nominee Tom Price.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; additional reporting by Robert Iafolla; Editing by Dan Grebler)

IMAGE: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump gestures as Andy Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, departs after their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar