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Labor nominee Eugene Scalia addresses corporate ties at confirmation hearing

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Sept. 19 (UPI) — Labor secretary nominee Eugene Scalia addressed criticism from Democrats about his background representing corporate interests during confirmation hearings Thursday.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, accused the private sector management-side attorney and son of the late Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia of ‘hostility’ toward workers.

“Instead of nominating a secretary of labor, President Trump has nominated a secretary of corporate interests,” Murray said. “If there is one consistent pattern in Mr. Scalia’s long career, it is hostility to the very workers that he would be charged with protecting and the very laws he would be charged with enforcing if he were to be confirmed.”

In particular, Murray said that Scalia struck down the Obama Labor Department’s “fiduciary rule.”

The rule would have required advisers on tax-privileged retirement accounts to act in their clients’ best interest, but Scalia challenged the rule, arguing it involved a regulatory change that only Congress could approve. A federal court agreed, vacating the rule last year.

Murray said that the move put “billions” of workers’ retirement savings in jeopardy.

“It was a common-sense rule that protected workers retirement savings by simply requiring financial advisers to put their clients’ interests ahead of their own,” she said.

Scalia defended himself, saying that he could remain impartial, and pointing out his time as the Labor Department solicitor during the Bush administration.

“Then, as now, I was coming to the department from the private sector, where I had advised and represented businesses regarding employment matters,” he said. “But once at the department, I had new clients, new responsibilities and, above all, I had a public trust. I am proud of the actions I took before as solicitor to further the department’s mission.”

“My goal was to act with neither favor neither towards the company nor towards the union but to resolve the dispute,” he added.

Several Democrats also questioned if Scalia would defend workers against sexual discrimination.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., referred to an opinion column that Scalia wrote on the issue of gay rights in 1985, when he wrote, “I don’t think we should treat it as equally acceptable.”

Scalia said his views have changed.

“I wouldn’t write that today,” he said.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., asked Scalia if he believed it was wrong for employers to fire people based on sexual orientation.

“Yes, I do believe it is wrong,” Scalia said.

President Donald Trump announced his nomination of Scalia as labor secretary on July 18. Murray sought to delay the confirmation hearing.

Committee Chair Sen. Lamar Alexander, D-Tenn., said Thursday that he had already delayed the hearing one week at Murray’s request and though he had requested further delay he didn’t feel it was needed.

The Office of Government Ethics found that Scalia “is in compliance with applicable laws and regulations governing conflicts of interest,” Alexander said.

The committee is expected to vote on Scalia’s nomination Tuesday.

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