WASHINGTON ― The Senate confirmed Alexander Acosta to be the next labor secretary on Thursday, filling an important but long-vacant role in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet.
Lawmakers voted 60-38 in favor of Acosta’s nomination, with all Republicans and a handful of Democrats supporting the law school dean and former official in the George W. Bush administration. The son of Cuban immigrants, Acosta will be the first Latino to occupy one of Trump’s Cabinet posts.
He will come to Washington to lead an agency in flux. Trump has signaled that he wants to dramatically reduce the budget at the Labor Department, which is tasked with enforcing the nation’s labor laws and administering federal jobs training programs. The White House clearly envisions a more limited role for the agency in the U.S. economy, having repealed or stalled several labor regulations issued by Barack Obama.
While Democrats and labor groups brace for a more business-friendly Labor Department, Acosta, a former prosecutor, said in his March confirmation hearing that he was committed to enforcing wage and safety laws on behalf of workers. “Helping Americans find good jobs ― safe jobs ― should not be a partisan issue,” he told senators.
And yet Acosta made clear he intends to carry out Trump’s agenda as it relates to labor issues, saying he would honor the White House’s order to review all regulations currently on the books for potential repeal. He also indicated he’s not a fan of Obama’s significant overtime reforms, which would extend new wage protections to millions of salaried workers but are currently tied up in court.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) made her case against Acosta’s confirmation on the Senate floor Wednesday. Warren chided Acosta for dodging her questions on issues like the silica rule, which would further limit the amount of cancer-causing dust that employers can expose construction workers to. Although that rule is projected to save 600 lives per year, the Trump administration has delayed enforcing it. Acosta made clear he would follow the administration’
“Mr. Acosta has had multiple opportunities in the more than two months since he was nominated for this position to demonstrate that he would stand up for workers,” Warren said. “Time after time, he has refused.”
Whatever concerns liberals have with Acosta, he is a vastly more palatable choice to them than Trump’s original labor nominee, Andrew Puzder, the former chief executive of CKE Restaurants. Puzder led the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. burger chains and was a sharp critic of a $15 minimum wage and more generous overtime rules. His nomination collapsed in February amid a fierce campaign by Democrats and labor groups, leading Trump to the safer choice of Acosta.
Acosta is currently dean of the law school at Florida International University. He’s been through the confirmation ringer before, having been a member of the National Labor Relations Board,…