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Technically, things fell apart for Puzder early Wednesday, when top Senate Republicans urged the White House to withdraw his nomination because there were, as CNN reported “four firm Republican no votes [against confirming Puzder] and possibly up to 12.” Even in a chamber that has rushed to rubber stamp Trump nominees, Puzder could not muster the 50 votes that he needed to avoid defeat by a Senate where Republicans enjoy a 52-48 majority.
But the story behind the vote is that foes of the Puzder nomination mounted a vigorous nationwide campaign that slowed down the process and created an opening for questions to be raised and opposition to build. They seized on an opening created by Trump, whose choice of Puzder revealed the hypocrisy of the “billionaire populist.”
“After campaigning as a champion of workers, Donald Trump had a chance to name someone to lead the Labor Department who would use the position to advocate for higher wages and increased prosperity for workers across America. Instead, he chose someone who has spent his career perfecting the art of grinding workers into the ground,” explained Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, a fierce critic of the nomination. Warren, Merkley, New York Congressman Joe Crowley, Wisconsin Congressman Mark Pocan and other Democrats worked inside the Capitol to prevent Puzder’s confirmation. At the same time, organized labor worked the outside angle. And they never let up.
After months of agitating against Puzder, the AFL-CIO stepped up its activism even as Vice President Mike Pence was breaking a 50-50 Senate tie to save DeVos’s nomination for Education Secretary. Some analysts saw the DeVos confirmation, and that of Sessions, as evidence that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could find the votes for even the most indefensible of Trump nominees.
But labor activists and their allies—especially in the farm and food safety movements—bet that Puzder could be stopped. They attracted support from the broader resistance movement. And they persisted. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers website summed the fight up this week with two words: “Keep Calling!” Working people kept calling. And it mattered.
Puzder really was a horrible nominee, with an anti-worker bias and a sordid past. But bad policies and bad backgrounds were not sufficient to derail Trump picks that McConnell and Republican leaders rushed through the confirmation process in late January and early February. This Trump nominee was stopped because an opposition movement is taking shape, developing inside-outside strategies and refusing to let Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell call all the shots.
Make no mistake: Puzder’s withdrawal is a major victory for the resistance to Trump’s presidency. It shows what that the resistance movement is going from strength to strength. It is building capacity and learning to use that capacity to beat the odds. That does not mean that every fight will end in victory. But it does mean that victories are possible.
The way forward is clear. Those who would resist a president who won only 46 percent of the vote—and who lost the popular vote competition by almost three million ballots—can and must continue to fight for civil society, the rule of law and a system of checks and balances that is real enough to trump Trump.
As the Working Families Party announced Wednesday afternoon: “Resistance works.”