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The first was Puzder’s admission of employing an undocumented housekeeper. While this has done by cabinet nominees in the past, it didn’t look like it would, initially, ruin Puzder’s chances. After all, Commerce Secretary nominee Wilbur Ross admitted to the same thing, and he’s likely to be confirmed.
The difference here is twofold. One, Puzder already had a shaky reputation on foreign labor; the housekeeper played into existing fears on the right. Second, it could be trotted out as a convenient excuse if anything truly damaging came to light. GOP Senators could curry favor with their anti-immigrant base by blaming the housekeeper for knocking out Puzder.
The real trouble spot concerned revelations of domestic violence in Puzder’s former marriage to Lisa Fierstein. Initially, Puzder got a statement from Fierstein retracting the allegations, which appear in divorce records. She claimed it was only for show, to try to win a bigger divorce settlement. But then Politico revealed the existence of a 1990 interview with Fierstein on the Oprah Winfrey Show, where she appeared in disguise (as “Ann”) to talk about her history of spousal abuse. This interview came years after the divorce was finalized.
Oprah’s company found the tape and shared it with Senators. Eventually a transcript of the video got released, where Fierstein said her husband “vowed revenge” for going public. The prospect of Puzder appearing in confirmation hearings, scheduled for tomorrow, while Democrats pummeled him with questions about domestic abuse was apparently too much for Senate Republicans to swallow. They appealed to Mitch McConnell by telling him that Puzder didn’t have the votes. Puzder quickly withdrew.
The Oprah tape was precisely the kind of trip-up that compounded Puzder’s problem with the base on immigration. Conservatives wanted to abandon the guy anyway, and his difficulties offered them the opportunity. Even National Review, held up as the pro-business alternative to the rantings of the far right, editorialized against Puzder on Wednesday, entirely over the subject of immigration. Despite being a laudable (in their view) opponent of “knee-jerk” demands to raise the minimum wage or protect worker’s rights on the job, the editorial condemns Puzder for being “a reliable font of clichés in favor of higher levels of legal immigration” and “a representative of the worst reflex of corporate America on one of Trump’s signature issues.” So much for National Review’s “Never Trump” impulses.
The right is signaling toward cracking down on all manner of immigration, and Puzder, simply put, got caught up in it. He’s a perfectly normal exploitative business owner seeking the cheapest labor possible. That once lined up with a business-oriented, conservative position, but now it’s untenable, and Puzder’s woes gave conservatives of all stripes a free chance to get into the fold, beating up on foreigners a bit in the process. The truth is that the modern Republican Party can forgive a lot, but cannot stand for anyone who holds a shred of sympathy for brown people.
Puzder’s withdrawal likely sets the table for someone who shares his anti-labor views without favoring looser immigration laws. But Puzder was so comically over the top in his view of workers as little more than meat for a grinder, having him far away from the Labor Department is a small victory.