Interviews

Andy Puzder opens up about why he withdrew his nomination

On 'Your World,' the former labor secretary nominee gives his first interview since taking himself out of the running

 

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," March 9, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST:  Meanwhile, to Andy Puzder, the man who was slated to be the next labor secretary of the United States.  Then came a buzz saw of criticism, numerous, delays and suddenly he had to pull himself out.  

And I'm talking a lot of delays and a lot of buzz-sawing activity.  

We get it into an interview that is already getting a great deal of response in and outside of Washington.  

Andy Puzder on no regrets now from Fox Business.  

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREW PUZDER, PRESIDENT & CEO, CKE RESTAURANTS:  I'm disappointed.  

It was very sad to watch the president's State of the Union.  While the speech was incredible and kind of watching the Democrats act like petulant children was kind of enjoyable, it was tough to see all the guys I had been hanging out with and gotten to know who would be in the Cabinet down on the floor, and to hear about the president talk about issues that you and I have been talking about for the past eight to 10 years on your show, and that I have been writing about and very involved with, and where I could have been a big help to the president.  

It was very hard to watch that.  It was kind of heartbreaking.  But I'm fine.  I'm going to continue on, continue to try and fight for workers' rights and free enterprise.  I'm not giving up after this.  But it was a tough fight.  

CAVUTO:  How did you tell the president you were taking yourself out of the running?  

PUZDER:  Well, actually, I got a call that -- from somebody high up in the separation, who said, look, we have talked to Senator McConnell.  

And Mitch was spectacular, by the way.  He was absolutely 100 percent supportive and I think gave this fight everything he had.  But he didn't think he could get the votes, and because of the delay -- the hearing delays, which you mentioned, which were unfortunate.  

A lot of the press was that I hadn't filed my ethics paper.  But, in fact, we had filed that form in early January, but we couldn't get the Office of Government of Ethics to respond until probably middle of February.  

CAVUTO:  Well, it allowed them plenty of time to get a lot of stuff on you.  

PUZDER:  It did.  It was a delay that was very unfortunate.  I think I would have been -- I think I would have been confirmed had the hearing gone as originally scheduled.  

But I didn't want to tilt at windmills.  Once you had three senators who wouldn't support you in the Republican Party, you were done.

CAVUTO:  So, who told you were done?  Did you tell them you were done, or did Mitch McConnell convey to the administration, this guy is done?

PUZDER:  Well, the administration called and said, look, if you want to do the hearing, we're behind you, because I actually had offered to drop out earlier, when all of these allegations came forward, because I didn't want to hurt the president, not because I didn't want to fight it.

CAVUTO:  Which allegation?  

PUZDER:  Well, allegations about our business oppressing workers' rights, allegations about -- from the divorce back in the '80s.  

CAVUTO:  Right.

PUZDER:  And I didn't want that to hurt the president.  

CAVUTO:  Are you surprised that one even came up?  That was decades-old.  

PUZDER:  Well, I was particularly surprised because my ex-wife has admitted to many people, admitted to media outlets, had written to the committee, has written to me many times admitting that those allegations simply weren't true.  

CAVUTO:  We should preface here there were allegations at the time -- this goes back to the mid'-80s -- of abuse.  

PUZDER:  Yes.  

CAVUTO:  Now, your wife, Lisa, with whom I chatted yesterday, had...

PUZDER:  She's a big fan.  

CAVUTO:  She -- and of yours as well.  You obviously have a very amicable relationship now.  

PUZDER:  We do.  

CAVUTO:  She recanted those comments.  And yet the media never, never took that, just went back.  And then we had the release of the tape with her on "Oprah."

PUZDER:  Right.  

CAVUTO:  And that gave it sort of a new lease on life.  What did you think of that?  

PUZDER:  Well, they kept repeating the allegations.  There would be three paragraphs of allegations.  And then, at the end, they would say she recanted.  

Well, she had done more than recanted.  She had come out and said, look, these allegations simply weren't true.  He was a good guy.  He never abused me.

CAVUTO:  You had an argument, but it never resulted in any abuse.  

PUZDER:  Exactly.  

I mean, marriages, there's a lot of arguments in every marriage.  So, there was never any substance to the abuse.  I had always denied it.  She admitted very shortly after the divorce that they weren't true.  And so it was somewhat of a surprise that the media would go after it so strongly.

CAVUTO:  This is where I want to go back and just get the story right, as I did with you your former wife.

PUZDER:  Sure.

CAVUTO:  That this would certainly come up in confirmation hearings.  

PUZDER:  Yes.  

CAVUTO:  Did you talk to her?  Did she to you?  Because I know it's very amicable today.  Look, this is going to come up?  Did you tell the president this could come up?  What?

PUZDER:  Yes, I told the administration early on.  

But we had Thanksgiving dinner together.  We -- my kids from my first marriage and my former wife and my wife and our kids had Thanksgiving dinner together.  

CAVUTO:  All of you together?  
 
PUZDER:  Yes.  We have done this a number of times.  

And, as I said, this is not the kind of relationship you would be having with somebody who had been abused as she alleged.  It's a very amicable relationship.  And at Thanksgiving dinner, she said, look, if anything comes up with the Trump administration -- and she wrote this to me.

She actually sent me an e-mail in a letter that said, I will be happy to tell anybody who wants to know that these allegations were untrue.  

So, you would think if the only two people in the world who knew whether they were true or not were saying they were untrue, you would think it wouldn't have been...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO:  But then Politico seized on it.  Others seized on it and it became sort of like more of a drawing point of media attention than your views on labor or the minimum wage, right?  

PUZDER:  Yes.  

Well, Politico was the worst.  They did an interview with my former wife. And she actually called me when the interview ran in tears, because she believed she had been mis -- taken advantage of.

And, in fact, when they announced my withdrawal, there was a tweet by -- from somebody who was in the newsroom, one of the reporters at Politico, saying that they broke out in applause.  So, you can imagine the biased nature of the coverage with respect to this issue.  

They really were the worst.

CAVUTO:  Did you think it would come up?  

PUZDER:  I thought it would come up, but I thought my wife -- my former wife and I both saying, look, we're good friends, this never happened could put it to rest.  

If I had been -- I think the big problem here was that the left and the Democrats really didn't want a successful businessman who started out as a working-class kid, who had worked these working-class, who knew what it was not to come up with enough money at the end of month, and then who had created tens of thousands of jobs, and knew what it took to generate economic growth, that was really their worst nightmare for the Department of Labor.

So they were going to do anything they possibly could to try and keep me out of that office, because if Donald -- and Donald Trump, President Trump, who is a great guy and I think will be a successful president, has the same problem.  

The problem is, it's not that they're concerned that I would have been a bad secretary of labor.  It's not that they're concerned that President Trump won't succeed.  They're concerned we will succeed, because if we succeed with conservative economic principles, if we cut taxes like Reagan did, if we reduce regulations like Reagan did, and we have a similar result, where employment goes up, economic growth goes back to 3.5 to 4 percent, well, that really puts the lie to what the left has been telling working and middle-class Americans for the past eight years.

CAVUTO:  But another thing, that they used the whole thing with your former wife as means by which to torpedo a guy who would be unfriendly to labor and that maybe you, not meaning in your wording, might have fed that beast, when you talked about machines in the workplace replacing workers with robots.

And you famously said, they're always polite, they always excel, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there is never a slip or a fall or a sex or race discrimination case.

PUZDER:  I'm glad you asked that, because I was -- my only chance to address these a lot of issues was going to be in the hearing, which I was really looking forward to, because you're kind of in a cone of silence for two months.  

But that quote was taken from an interview I did where a reporter asked me, what are the upsides for businesses and what are the downsides of automation?  And I told them both.  I said the things you said but I also said, look, but you can't create a company culture.  A lot of your customers don't like automation, and they're not comfortable with it.  

You have got to make capital investment.

CAVUTO:  But, ironically, Wendy's is doing just that.  Wendy's is automating a lot of its facilities post-your experience.

PUZDER:  Yes, but come -- but back to your point, I gave both sides of the issue.  

CAVUTO:  And only that quote got the famous...

(CROSSTALK)

PUZDER:  But all they quoted was the positives I said.  

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO:  But people read into that, Andy, that what he's saying is this is yet another reason not to double the minimum wage, because you're all but enticing guys like me to use machines to replace workers, who certainly don't deserve 15 bucks an hour.  

PUZDER:  Well, and, in part, that was true.  What my position on the minimum wage...

CAVUTO:  What was true, that sentiment or the way that...

PUZDER:  No, the fact, if you increase the minimum wage, it will incentivize people to automate.  And I have made that point in The Wall Street Journal.

CAVUTO:  And, by the way, you preface it you were not against raising the minimum wage.  

PUZDER:  Not at all.

CAVUTO:  Against doubling it.

PUZDER:  I was against increasing it to the point where it kills jobs for working-class Americans.  

If you're killing jobs for people who need to get on the ladder of opportunity, if you're making it so low-skilled workers can't find a job, then you're acting contrary to what you claim you're trying to do.  You're not really trying to help those people by increasing the wage.  You're trying to make a political point.  

So I have actually advocated for the restaurant association and the franchise association to get behind a minimum wage increase.  But let's determine the point at which it starts to kill jobs.  At that point, you're encouraging people to automate.  

And you have seen Wendy's and McDonald's have announced broad-based automation.  We have not, by the way, but other brands have announced broad-based automation.  

CAVUTO:  By the way, that was one of the ironies in this, that you at Carl's Jr.'s was not, through its restaurants, doing any of stuff that they most feared you would be trumpeting.  

PUZDER:  Yes, I was just trying to explain to people what -- the risks of taking the minimum wage too high.  

In the retail industry, people make about $6,300 a year in profit per employee.  Apple makes $400,000.  But in retail, Wal-Mart, everybody makes about $6,300.  If you take the average number of hours that a worker works in retail and you raise that person to $15 an hour, it's over a $12,000 raise.  

People are not going to pay $12,000, businesses aren't, for a worker that is producing about $6,000 in benefit.  But there's some room to give a raise, but we have to be rational about it and we have to be...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO:  You also explained there's a difference in your industry, the fast food industry, about franchises, and vs. the parent company.  

PUZDER:  Yes.  

CAVUTO:  But, nevertheless, when you opted out and said, all right, I'm done here, unions had a party.  Many of them said low pay, no way, Andy Puzder went away, celebrated your not getting this job.  How did you feel about that?  

PUZDER:  Well, again, I felt disappointed by the fact that I wasn't going to be secretary of labor.  I still do.

I wish I could help President Trump.  I think he's going to do a great job. I think he's pursuing all the right policies.  I would like to help.  

CAVUTO:  Are you surprised that unions are the ones who kind of like him and that some, given the fact that the head of the Teamsters, head of the AFL-CIO, have been saying favorable things about him, that maybe the administration was relieved when you walked away?  

PUZDER:  I didn't get that impression.  I always felt like I had the 100 percent support from the president and the vice president.  

CAVUTO:  What was his reaction when you made your announcement?  

PUZDER:  Before I made the announcement, they said to me, look, we will -- if you want to go through the hearing and try and fight this, we will be behind you 100 percent.  

CAVUTO:  Did you buy that?  Do you think they were sincere?

PUZDER:  I think it was very sincere.  

CAVUTO:  Do you think if they hadn't had the Betsy DeVos thing that you would have been OK?  

PUZDER:  I have been told by some of my Republican senator friends that that actually is what killed it.  

CAVUTO:  That it poisoned the well?

PUZDER:  Yes.

Well, a lot of the senators who are a little bit nervous about getting reelected went home, and they had protesters and demonstrators at their offices and at their events that they had really never seen before.  And that made some of them -- they began to waver.  

And when the left sensed that there was wavering and my hearing kept getting delayed, that was kind of the death knell.  

CAVUTO:  Are you bitter?  

PUZDER:  Oh, no, not at all.  

Look, I knew going into this that there were people out that were going to be opposed to me.  I think the labor unions really shouldn't have been opposed.  I have never really said anything about collective bargaining. Just because I don't think we should raise the minimum wage to the point where it kills jobs...

CAVUTO:  But, again, I'm back to these labor unions are the same guys whose chiefs are singing the praises of Donald Trump.  What do you make of that?  

PUZDER:  Well, I mean, Donald Trump got the -- what, 42 percent of union families voted for Donald Trump, despite what the leaders of the movement had said.  So I think they do need to get behind him or they're going to lose the support of their union members.

Whether that manifests itself in policy support, we will see.  I think, in some areas, it will, particularly immigration, bringing jobs back to America.  I think they will be very supportive.  

But I would like to see them get behind him other things, where we can generate economic growth and really help get American workers back on the track, defend the free enterprise system.  

Look, I intend to continue doing that myself.  I think that is incredibly important and it's something that I will be committed for the rest of my life.  

CAVUTO:  What came up also in some of the hearings, and I was surprised with it, but not too, too surprised, is that a number of senators said, oh, yes, his ads, the sexy ads featuring Paris Hilton and some of these others, they're demeaning to women.  

You had made the comment when you were here that young males are a disproportionate customer base.  And they seemed to like the ads.  But it was deemed sexist, demeaning to women.  

You say?

PUZDER:  Well, 46 percent of our consumers are women.  I don't think all women found these ads demeaning.  Certainly, the women in the ads didn't.  

But I have been CEO for 16 years.  When I took over, our company was on the verge of bankruptcy.  We almost didn't have a company.  And so I approved a lot of marketing techniques to engage consumers.  

And it was a very competitive media market.  And we have got a company about to collapse.  Now, we prevented it from collapsing.  A bit part of that was the way we advertised the brand.  We got the attention of this demographic, young hungry guys, which is what our marketing and research people advised us to do.

CAVUTO:  No one had a problem with it until you were up for this job, though.

PUZDER:  Well, you think about it, we have got 75,000 people in the United States today.  Because of our team and what we did with this company, 75,000 people in the United States have jobs; 68 percent of them are women and 63 percent of them are minorities.

CAVUTO:  But you knew what you were doing with those ads, right?  

PUZDER:  We did.  We saved the company.  

CAVUTO:  All right, but do you relate to some of the senators, the female senators particularly, that said, well, you know, we don't like this, the message it's sending that women are sex objects?  

PUZDER:  Well, I think that any grocery store you go into or drugstore, you are going to see on magazine covers things that are more revealing that you saw in many of our ads.  

I'm sorry that they feel that way.  But we saved the company with those ads.  We saved a lot of jobs.  

CAVUTO:  You are going to continue with ads like that?  

PUZDER:  We actually changed ad campaigns end of last summer, before all of this started.  We have gone to a new campaign.

Those are ads -- when you and I used to talk about Paris Hilton back in 2005...

CAVUTO:  I never did.  You would always force...

(CROSSTALK)

PUZDER:  That's just not true.

Back in 2005, that was a very impactful ad.  Now you get -- you can see your friends on Snapchat or what -- you can go on the Internet and...

CAVUTO:  Careful.  This is a family show.  

PUZDER:  Yes.  

CAVUTO:  I did want to step back from this and also get your take on this experience.  

I know what you say about you still love the president, you still love the country and all.  And I understand that.  But a lot of people look at what you went through and said, boy, I sure as helicopter don't want to go through the same thing.  

And I'm wondering that -- ironically, in an administration that is staffed with a lot of business titans, so, obviously, the message isn't far and widespread, but they did look at you and did look at, my God, they're talking about a decades-old relationship and a marriage that ended that didn't end at all as it was portrayed in the media.  

PUZDER:  Yes.  

CAVUTO:  I had a chance to talk obviously to you about it, to your former wife about it.  Obviously, your kids know the story.  Your present wife knows the story.  

So, they look at what happen to you just say, no way in hell I would ever do what he did, to try a hand at the public sector.  

PUZDER:  Yes, I can't blame people for feeling that way.  

You do see in this experience why good people don't go into government.  I hope people -- I hope it won't discourage people who could make a difference from trying to go into government.  Even knowing what I know, I would have done it anyway.  

I think that, look, there's no country in the world where a working-class kid like me could have aspired to this level of success I have achieved with any reasonable chance of achieving it.

That's something we need to preserve for future generations.  That is something worth protecting.  It's something worth taking risks for.  I didn't go fight in a world war, in Iraq and risk my life.  But I put myself out there, and I would do it again.  

This was incredibly important.  We have got a great president who really can turn the country around.  We should support him.

CAVUTO:  How do you think he's doing?  How do you think he's doing?  

PUZDER:  I think he's doing very, very well.  I think he has got the media very, very scared.  This sort of Democrat media conglomerate...

CAVUTO:  But do you think, in going after the media, he invites a negative media response?  One feeds on the other.

PUZDER:  Yes.  I think that's true.

But I got to tell you what.  This president, he doesn't care.  He goes right to the people.  He skips the media.  It's not like former presidents, where you had a press conference or you would put out a press release.  He decides at midnight there's something he wants to tell 50 million Americans, he tweets it out.  

CAVUTO:  Would you ever run for office?  

PUZDER:  I'm a little old to run.  I'm 66 now.  I don't know that I would run for office.  

I certainly would serve, if asked.  I wouldn't want to go through this process again.  But I would -- I decided about a year ago it was time for me to no longer be the CEO of the young hungry guy brand, because I'm 66. And I thought I should go into government service to pay back, for the reasons I told you.  

I would still like to do that.  This is a setback.  I would love to have done it in this position, but I'm not giving up.  

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO:  Yes, people forget.  And your former wife, Lisa, reminded me of this, that you were an anti-war protester and you had the long hair.  I said, do you have pictures, Lisa?  She said yes.  

PUZDER:  I hope she's not sending them to you.  

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CAVUTO:  I will get those pictures, by hook or crook.

All right, Andy Puzder, his first account of what happened and how life is going for him now. Would have, should have, could have, depending on your point of view, not.  All right.  

END