The Senate on Thursday confirmed Alex Acosta as secretary of labor, filling out President Donald Trump’s Cabinet as he approaches his 100th day in office.
The vote was 60-38. Once sworn as the nation’s 27th secretary of labor, the son of Cuban immigrants will lead an a sprawling agency that enforces more than 180 federal laws covering about 10 million employers and 125 million workers.
Acosta has been a federal prosecutor, a civil rights chief at the Justice Department and a member of the National Labor Relations Board. He wasn’t Trump’s first choice for the job. Former fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder withdrew from consideration last month, on the eve of his confirmation vote, after becoming a political headache for the new administration.
Puzder acknowledged having hired a housekeeper not authorized to work in the U.S. 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.
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.
Democrats and most labor groups were mostly muted in their response to Acosta’s nomination. At his confirmation hearing, Democratic Senators Patty Murray of Washington and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts 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 was confirmed but vowed to be an independent and fair voice for workers.
Tellingly, even as Acosta’s nomination wound through the Senate, Democrats and their allies 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 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.”