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Trump’s weakened Labor Department nominee prepares to take confirmation stage

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s tumultuous week just got bumpier.

Andrew Puzder, Trump’s pick to run the Labor Department, withdrew from the position Wednesday, just a day before he was set to appear in front of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee for his confirmation hearing. Democrats and Republicans raised red flags and CNN reported Wednesday that there were four firm GOP votes against the nominee — and as many as 12 opposing Republicans — potentially dooming him.

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Controversy over Puzder only brings more scrutiny to the Trump administration, which is still reeling after the forced resignation of Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, and reports that Trump officials were in communication with Russian officials throughout the campaign.

The National Review, a conservative news outlet, published an article Wednesday opposing Puzder’s nomination for his support of “comprehensive immigration reform” and the revelation that he employed an undocumented housekeeper.

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“The case for his confirmation has diminished to the point of disappearing,” the site’s editors wrote. “Not only is Puzder a representative of the worst reflex of corporate America on one of Trump’s signature issues, he is now significantly weakened.”

In a statement, Puzder admitted he employed a housekeeper for a few years during which he was unaware she was an undocumented immigrant. He said when he learned of her status, he ended her employment and offered assistance in obtaining legal citizenship.

“We have fully paid back taxes to the IRS and the state of California and submitted all required paperwork,” he said in the statement.

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POLITICO also released a video Wednesday of Puzder’s ex-wife appearing in 1990 on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in which she said Puzder “vowed revenge” after she publicly discussed abuse by him. Lisa Fierstein, his ex-wife, appeared on the show in disguise, and said Pudzer told her, “I will see you in the gutter. This will never be over. You will pay for this.”

Democratic and Republican senators have reviewed the tape after the Oprah Winfrey Network provided them with a copy, POLITICO reported.

The strong pushback on Puzder’s nomination parallels the contentious confirmation last week of Betsy DeVos, the new Secretary of Education. DeVos was only confirmed after a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence after two Republicans voted against her.

Four Republican senators who serve on the HELP committee, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Tim Scott of South Carolina, all remained undecided on whether to support Puzder. If all Democrats had opposed Puzder, as expected, Pudzer could have only lost two Republican votes and still secure confirmation.

Democrats have also spent weeks building their case against Puzder, with Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who sits on the HELP committee, among those leading the charge. This week, Warren released a 28-page letter with 83 questions for Puzder, a document she said is necessary given the Republicans’ plan to limit senators’ time for questions.

“My staff’s review of your 16-year tenure . . . reveals that you’ve made your fortune by squeezing the very workers you’d be charged with protecting as Labor Secretary out of wages and benefits,” Warren wrote in the letter.

Warren also helped convene a forum last month with Democratic senators and some of Puzder’s employees who provided tearful testimony of their negative experiences working in his restaurants.

Puzder, the chief executive of CKE Restaurants, which runs fast food chains Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., had his confirmation hearing delayed numerous times because his paperwork for the Office of Government Ethics was missing his plan to avoid financial conflicts of interest.

When Trump announced Puzder as his nominee to run the Labor Department, debate erupted over Puzder’s companies’ objectification of women as his fast-food restaurants often use bikini-clad women in the advertisments. Puzder has faced staunch criticism for the use of racy advertisiments, some of which were compared to soft-core pornography.

Puzder’s history brought new concerns over Trump’s treatment of women after a 2005 Access Hollywood video surfaced in which Trump bragged about grabbing women by the genitals. Puzder was one of 100 business leaders who signed onto a public letter supporting Trump after the video surfaced.

Tyler Pager can be reached at tyler.pager@globe.com.



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