President Donald Trump named former National Labor Relations Board member R. Alexander Acosta as his new nominee for labor secretary, the first Hispanic he has chosen for his Cabinet.
Trump said Acosta, a law school dean and former head of the Justice Department’s civil-rights division, will be "a tremendous secretary of labor."
Acosta, 48, replaces Trump’s first nominee for the position, Andy Puzder, who withdrew his name Wednesday amid controversy over his personal life and business background.
Acosta wasn’t at the news conference in which his nomination was announced, suggesting the administration moved so swiftly to name him that there may not have been time to arrange his attendance.
Acosta served as assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division under President George W. Bush and was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, where he prosecuted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff for fraud. He once clerked for then-Appeals Court judge Samuel Alito, now a U.S. Supreme Court justice.
He also is currently the chairman of U.S. Century Bank, an Hispanic community bank, and dean of the law school at Florida International University. A Miami-born son of Cuban immigrants, he earned both an undergraduate and law degree from Harvard.
“He’s intense, hardworking, but I think in contrast to Puzder, he’s going to get things done more quietly,” said Tammy McCutcheon, who served as administrator of the Wage and Hour Division of the Labor Department during the Bush administration. “He will be quietly efficient. I don’t think you’ll see a lot of difference in his policy positions from Puzder.”
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka responded to the nomination with a conciliatory statement.
"Unlike Andy Puzder, Alexander Acosta’s nomination deserves serious consideration," Trumka said. "In one day, we’ve gone from a fast-food CEO who routinely violates labor law to a public servant with experience enforcing it."
If confirmed, Acosta would be one of only three minority Cabinet members in the Trump administration. The other two are Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, who is black, and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who is Asian.
Puzder, who had been scheduled for a Senate confirmation hearing Thursday, ran into trouble in the Senate over his admission that he employed an undocumented housekeeper. Also shadowing his nomination were divorce-court proceedings that included a domestic-abuse allegation, which he has denied. Some conservatives had questioned his pro-immigration stance.
In the 52-48 Senate, three Republican defections would have doomed Puzder if all 48 Democrats voted to deny him, and as many as a dozen GOP senators had indicated they wouldn’t back the nomination.
Puzder is head of the fast-food conglomerate CKE Restaurants Inc., which includes Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. His withdrawal came after a week that saw party-line confirmations in the Senate and a tie-breaking vote cast by Vice President Mike Pence to confirm Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. That 51-50 tally was the first time a vice president ever broke a tie on a Cabinet nomination.
Trump already has lost one senior member of his administration. He dismissed Mike Flynn as national security adviser on Monday because the administration said he may have misled the president and vice president about his communications with a Russian envoy.