Appointments

Labor pick Puzder withdraws from consideration amid controversy

John Roberts reports from the White House

 

Fast-food chain CEO Andrew Puzder withdrew from consideration for Labor secretary Wednesday afternoon, amid mounting controversy over his personal and professional past. 

Puzder issued a statement removing his name on the eve of his scheduled Senate hearing, where lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were preparing for tough questioning. 

"After careful consideration and discussions with my family, I am withdrawing my nomination for Secretary of Labor," he said in the statement.

"I am honored to have been considered by President Donald Trump to lead the Department of Labor and put America's workers and businesses back on a path to sustainable prosperity. I want to thank President Trump for his nomination. I also thank my family and my many supporters - employees, businesses, friends and people who have voiced their praise and hopeful optimism for the policies and new thinking I would have brought to America as Secretary of Labor." 

The decision is the latest blow for the Trump administration, coming on the heels of national security adviser Michael Flynn resigning amid a controversy over his past contact with the Russian ambassador. 

Puzder's problems have been mounting for weeks, but were concentrating as several Senate Republicans made clear they were withholding support ahead of his previously scheduled Senate hearing. 

Well-placed senior Capitol Hill sources told Fox News that “about a dozen” Republican senators expressed reservations or concerns about Puzder, and told their leadership they were not prepared to support his nomination. 

Puzder’s high-profile divorce including past abuse allegations from his ex-wife; revelations that his family had hired an undocumented immigrant as their housekeeper; and his business background all have cast a harsh spotlight on the executive. Puzder could not afford to lose much Republican backing, since the GOP has a slim majority in the Senate. 

While several of Trump's Cabinet nominees have faced tight confirmation votes -- with Vice President Pence even being called to break a tie earlier this month -- Puzder becomes the first Trump pick to withdraw. 

A total of three Cabinet picks withdrew from consideration under then-President Barack Obama; while two did so during the George W. Bush administration and five withdrew during the Bill Clinton administration. 

While the abuse allegations from Puzder's ex-wife -- and especially an interview she did with Oprah Winfrey decades ago that resurfaced in light of his nomination -- have attracted the most attention, his ex-wife, Lisa Fierstein, has retracted those claims. 

She told Fox News in a statement that her "privacy has been invaded," as she lashed out at the media and critics of her former husband. 

But the issue has hung over his nomination.

Before he withdrew, top Republican leaders said they supported him and were confident he’d be confirmed.

"I'm a strong supporter of Andy Puzder. I think he's uniquely qualified for this job," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday.

Puzder is the CEO of CKE Restaurants, which franchises the fast food chains Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.

“It is extremely unfortunate that the confirmation process has resulted in a qualified and dedicated man withdrawing from the Labor Secretary nomination,” Leslie Shedd, a spokeswoman for the National Restaurant Association, said in a written statement. “Andy Puzder would have made a great Labor Secretary.”

Others were eager to see him out of the running. Democratic senators days ago had called on the administration to withdraw the pick, also citing his labor policy stances. 

“Given his relationship to his employees, he wasn’t fit to lead a department responsible for defending workers,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted Wednesday afternoon.

Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez also weighed in on Twitter saying Puzder is “unfit to be in charge of protecting workers.”

“We need someone with moral authority,” Perez said.

Puzder, had he been able to survive the confirmation battle, would have been the first labor secretary in decades to hold the post with no prior public service experience.

Puzder had been a strong supporter of Trump on the campaign trail. In addition to serving as economic adviser to the president he and his wife also donated $332,000 to Trump, joint fundraising committees and to the Republican National Committee. 

Fox News’ Serafin Gomez, John Roberts, Mike Emanuel and Christopher Wallace contributed to this report.