US Labor nominee Acosta says he’ll advocate for workers

March 22 at 3:27 AM
WASHINGTON — Labor Secretary nominee Alexander Acosta says he will work with Congress to address the need for good, safe jobs and to provide American workers with the training they need to get them.

“Whether it is those who are working, those who still seek work, those who are discouraged or underemployed, or those who have retired, if confirmed as secretary of labor, I will advocate for them,” Acosta said in prepared remarks.

“We may not always agree on the ‘how,’ but at least let us agree on the need,” he said.

If confirmed, he would be the first Hispanic member of Trump’s Cabinet.

Senate Democrats want to know how he would enforce worker protections in an agency the president wants cut by 20 percent, including the deletion of a training program for jobless Americans age 55 and older.

In his prepared remarks to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Acosta did not address Democratic priorities, including a big hike in the minimum wage and tougher enforcement of federal overtime rules.

Democrats also were expected to press him on whether he can withstand political pressure from Trump. Acosta’s career was touched by a political hiring scandal when he led the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. An independent inspector general’s report said Acosta insufficiently supervised a subordinate who used political tests in hiring.

“You, at best, ignored an extraordinary politicization of the work of this critical division_and at worst, actively facilitated it,” Sen. Patty Murray, the senior Democrat on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said in prepared remarks.

Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said Acosta “is off to a good start” given his previous Senate confirmations. And he said the challenge for the unemployed now is not necessarily about finding work.

“My generation found jobs. This generation is more likely to have to create their own jobs,” Alexander said in prepared remarks.

In Acosta, President Trump nominated a 48-year-old son of Cuban immigrants who has been unanimously confirmed by the Senate three times — to the National Labor Relations Board, to lead DOJ’s civil rights division and to become South Florida’s federal prosecutor. That means Acosta, the dean of the Florida International University Law School, has received some vetting — a fact Trump and Senate Republicans trumpeted after his first Labor nominee, Andrew Puzder, withdrew from consideration on the eve of his confirmation hearing under questions about his hiring of a housekeeper not authorized to work in the U.S. and other issues.

Acosta was to be introduced by a pair of 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls, also Latino, who were defeated by Trump: home state Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

In his prepared remarks, Acosta promised to enforce workplace safety laws enacted by Congress.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a member of the panel, said in a letter Tuesday that Acosta’s tenure atop Justice’s civil rights department “raises serious concerns about whether you are capable of running a large government agency independently and without undue political influence.”

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