Schumer and the Dems turn fire on Trump labor pick, after Sessions battle falls short

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and his Democratic lieutenants refocused their energy Thursday on battling labor secretary nominee Andrew Puzder, after their public campaign against two controversial Cabinet picks failed to block their confirmation.

Though President Trump and his Republican allies have blasted Senate Democrats for slow-walking his nominees, Schumer, D-N.Y., made it clear at a press conference Thursday they’re not finished yet -- and called on the president to withdraw Puzder’s name.

“Remember the days when Republicans would actually nominate labor leaders to be head of the Department of Labor?” Schumer said, calling the nominee “one of the most anti-worker nominees to any Cabinet position.”

“They ought to withdraw Puzder’s [nomination] before he further embarrasses this administration,” Schumer said.

The demand comes after Democratic senators, despite spending days railing against their nominations, were unable to prevent now-Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions from being confirmed.

Two Republicans joined all 48 Democrats in opposing DeVos earlier this week, but Vice President Pence broke the tie in her favor, in his capacity as president of the Senate. Sessions, a longtime Alabama senator, was confirmed Wednesday evening on a 52-47 vote following a raucous debate. He was sworn-in Thursday.

The Senate turns next to the nominations of Rep. Tom Price for health secretary and Steve Mnuchin for treasury secretary.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., defended their credentials Thursday and urged the full chamber to confirm. Amid Democratic resistance, the Senate has confirmed just six of Trump’s core Cabinet secretaries, a historically slow pace for a new president.

“The confirmation of any of President Trump’s cabinet nominees, it seems, will bring about untold destruction, the likes of which America has never seen,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said on Thursday, blasting Democrats’ broad opposition. “My colleagues appear to be more than willing to cast aside the traditions, respect, and assumptions of good faith that has long been the hallmark of the Senate confirmation process and of the Senate itself.”

Puzder, though, is now attracting the most concentrated criticism from Senate Democrats, as he tries to address questions about conflicts of interest and other issues.

He has proposed resigning as CEO of his fast food empire, selling off hundreds of holdings and recusing himself from government decisions in which he has a financial interest, according to his ethics filings with the government

"I will not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter in which I know that I have a financial interest directly and predictably affected by the matter" without a waiver from government ethics officials, Andrew Puzder wrote in the nine-page filing, dated Tuesday and obtained by The Associated Press. Puzder is CEO of CKE Restaurants Inc., which owns such chains as Hardee's and Carl's Jr.

Asked on a separate Senate questionnaire obtained Thursday whether he would "sever all connections with (his) present employer" if confirmed, Puzder answered, "Yes."

A spokesperson for Tennessee GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander, whose committee will handle Puzder's confirmation hearing, confirmed that the panel had received the agreement with the Office of Government Ethics required of all presidential Cabinet nominees.

The hearing was set for Feb. 16.

Trump has called Puzder the “ideal candidate” to lead the department, citing his record boosting “the careers of thousands of Americans.”

But Democrats are questioning how well Puzder could advocate for American workers atop the agency charged with enforcing protections, given his business empire. They are publicizing several unflattering stories from current and former employees of Puzder's company, and his hearing has been postponed several times. Puzder has said he opposes a big minimum wage hike, rules on overtime pay and other labor priorities.

Puzder said on the questionnaire that from 2014 through 2016, he personally lobbied lawmakers and their staffers "to advocate on behalf of issues that are of importance to the restaurant industry." Puzder cited his firm's interest in menu labeling, franchise regulations, the Affordable Care Act and an Obama administration labor ruling that companies can be held responsible for labor violations committed by their contractors.

Like several of the wealthy corporate figures who have joined Trump's Cabinet and agreed to sell off their vast assets to eliminate possible conflicts of interest, Puzder promised in his ethics agreement that he would sell off his CKE Restaurant Holdings partnership stock shares to his company. Puzder estimated the worth of those stock holdings at between $10 million and $50 million, according to his financial disclosures.

Unlike the OGE-approved agreements of several other Trump Cabinet nominees, notably Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's, Puzder's does not include language that would place his sold-off holdings in a trust administered by an independent trustee. Instead, the government appears to be allowing Puzder to use an alternate route of insulating himself from his holdings by converting them into "non-conflicting assets" approved by ethics officials.

Puzder said he expected to be able to sell more than 200 stocks, bonds and mutual fund holdings within 90 days, but warned that more than a dozen other investment funds with multiple underlying assets could take longer to sell.

Puzder also has acknowledged having employed a housekeeper who was not authorized to work in the U.S. A spokesman later confirmed that the nominee fired her when he discovered her status, about five years ago, and paid the back-taxes regarding her employment after Trump nominated him.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.