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Trump Labor Nominee Andrew Puzder Withdraws, First Cabinet Pick To Fall

President-elect Donald Trump with Labor Secretary-designate Andrew Puzder at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., on Nov. 19, 2016.
Carolyn Kaster
President-elect Donald Trump with Labor Secretary-designate Andrew Puzder at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., on Nov. 19, 2016.

Updated at 4:15 p.m. ET

Fast-food executive Andrew Puzder withdrew his nomination to head the Labor Department on Wednesday as his support on Capitol Hill faltered. Facing criticism from both sides of the aisle, Puzder became the first Trump Cabinet pick whose nomination failed.

Puzder put out a statement on Wednesday:

"After careful consideration and discussions with my family, I am withdrawing my nomination for Secretary of Labor. 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. While I won't be serving in the administration, I fully support the President and his highly qualified team."

Ahead of his scheduled confirmation hearing on Thursday, which had been delayed several times, it became less clear Puzder had support from his own party, facing pressure to withdraw. Several Republican senators, including Maine's Susan Collins, Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, Georgia's Johnny Isakson and South Carolina's Tim Scott, signaled trouble by saying they were undecided on Puzder.

In a statement responding to Puzder's withdrawal, Scott said, "As revelations regarding paying employees in cash, illegal immigration, and comments regarding some of the American workforce came to light, I developed serious concerns regarding his nomination." Scott said he informed Senate GOP leadership about his reluctance to support Puzder.

Puzder has faced a range of criticisms, from his record running the Hardee's and Carl's Jr.'s fast-food chains to old allegations — since retracted — of domestic abuse made by his ex-wife. More recently, Puzder disclosed he employed a housekeeper who was not in the country legally. Labor unions, which had planned to protest his nomination outside the Senate offices where the hearing was to be held, have argued a Puzder-led Labor Department would undermine their efforts to raise the federal minimum wage, expand the eligibility for overtime pay and enforce wage and hour violations, among other things.

Puzder, a corporate attorney by training, was first a lawyer for CKE Restaurants, which operates Hardee's, Carl's Jr., Green Burrito and Red Burrito restaurants. He helped founder Carl Karcher settle an insider trading case with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Then, after the chain fell into financial trouble following its acquisition of Hardee's in the late 1990s, Puzder helped turn the company around and in 2000 was named CEO.

As CEO, and later as a Trump campaign adviser, Puzder has been outspoken about his views on labor policy, contributing to newspaper opinion pages and on television, discussing issues such as immigration. During the Republican presidential primaries, Puzder advocated creating a path to legal status for unauthorized workers living in the U.S. He endorsed a more moderate "comprehensive immigration reform," similar to what candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio were proposing at the time.

That endorsement won him critics from the right, who want the Trump administration to make good on promises to get tougher on illegal immigration and crack down to deport those in the country illegally.

In an opinion piece titled "No to Puzder" in the National Review published Feb. 15, the conservative magazine wrote: "The case for his confirmation has diminished to the point of disappearing."

The most vocal critics, however, have pointed to his industry's record at the very department he would lead.

For the fast-food industry overall, during the 2016 federal fiscal year, the agency found violations in 86 percent of the 1,300 cases it investigated for wage theft, or for unpaid overtime. CKE Restaurants had one of the lowest incidents of reported cases, faring relatively well in an industry that came in for a lot of criticism under the Obama administration.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said Puzder would not have enforced labor laws against his own industry. "How can he possibly go out and defend workers," he said, arguing the agency should be headed by someone with a history of trying to protect the interests of workers.

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Yuki Noguchi is a correspondent on the Science Desk based out of NPR's headquarters in Washington, D.C. She started covering consumer health in the midst of the pandemic, reporting on everything from vaccination and racial inequities in access to health, to cancer care, obesity and mental health.