Some of the nation’s largest women’s groups have made the Trump administration’s nominee for Labor secretary, fast-food executive Andrew Puzder, a top target. But they’re finding little traction among lawmakers who are focused on a long list of other controversial nominees.
Liberal women’s groups spent recent weeks highlighting Puzder’s approval of Carl’s Jr. ads featuring scantily clad women in bikinis eating hamburgers; his record as an anti-abortion lawyer in Missouri; his opposition to a significant minimum-wage increase and financial concerns about paid sick days; and allegations of physical abuse from his ex-wife, which she later retracted.
In the weeks leading up to Puzder’s Senate confirmation hearing, now scheduled for Feb. 2, “we are going to make the case to senators and to the public that his confirmation as labor secretary would be a disaster for working women,” said Emily Martin, general counsel at the National Women’s Law Center.
Their effort marks one of the first attempts by major women’s organizations to push back against President Donald Trump after failing in their effort to help elect the first female president over a candidate who faced widespread allegations of sexual harassment or assault. Thousands of women are gathering this weekend in Washington and across the nation to protest the Trump administration and its policy plans.
Terry O’Neill, president of National Organization for Women, said the group will mobilize its members at the grassroots level to call on their senators to vote against Puzder’s nomination.
“He sexually objectifies women in his public advertising and then in his policymaking keeps women on starvation wages because he is deeply opposed to increasing the minimum wage,” O’Neill said.
(Puzder does not oppose raising the minimum wage, but has said even $10.10 is too high.)
The effort by women’s organizations is only part of the opposition. Other liberal groups, unions and many lawmakers oppose Puzder for his labor views, which include a desire to cut regulations.
Questions about Puzder’s fate have been swirling around the capital for weeks, spurring repeated speculation that he would drop out. A delay in his confirmation hearing also fueled speculation, though an aide on the committee attributed that to the schedule of another nominee on deck.
POLITICO reported this month that Puzder’s ex-wife appeared in disguise on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” as a victim of domestic violence. CNN reported Monday that Puzder was having “second thoughts” about the nomination, citing a Republican source who said Puzder was “not into the pounding he [was] taking, and the paperwork.” Puzder tweeted shortly after: “I am looking forward to my confirmation hearing” and his allies dispute the rumors.
Several groups have sent letters to members of the Senate HELP Committee opposing Puzder’s nomination. The NWLC’s letter flagged the abuse allegations to the Committee and said they are “definitely a relevant part of the record,” Martin said. His ex-wife’s decision to appear on the Oprah program to discuss the allegations, along with Puzder’s deposition at the time of the allegations, “raise really significant questions about his behavior in those instances,” Martin said.
The National Partnership for Women and Families said the Puzder nomination “betrays America’s workers, especially women and people of color whose rights he has worked to erode” and highlighted his opposition to the Obama administration’s overtime rule and his anti-abortion record, among other issues.
Some business groups supporting Puzder’s policies fear that female Republican senators will block his confirmation because of his controversy among women. If three of the five Republican female Senators vote “no,” along with all of the Democrats, Puzder will not get through.
Women’s advocacy groups have made the two Republican women on the HELP committee a key focus of their push. Some have already met with the staff of Susan Collins (R-Maine), a member of the key committee overseeing Puzder’s nomination. Asked about Puzder’s nomination and his ex-wife’s abuse allegations, Collins said she has “asked the committee staff to take a look at those.”
“It’s my understanding that his former wife has recanted them and they actually had Thanksgiving together so I need more information to assess that,” Collins said.
A spokesperson for Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said the senator “is closely examining the merits of each candidate before arriving at a final decision.”
Conservative women’s groups, which are far smaller than the major liberal groups, are rallying behind Puzder. Carrie Lukas, vice president of policy and economics at Independent Women’s Voice, said Puzder “seems to recognize that we want to have a dynamic labor market and create new work paradigms.”
“That’s ultimately going to help all workers, particularly women,” she said. Lukas said it was “totally selective outrage” for feminist groups to criticize Puzder for the ads. “I have no idea what the dress code is at Carl’s Jr., but I bet it’s a lot more modest than what most people are wearing at the Hollywood parties and events that are regularly attended by leading liberal politicians and feminist activists.”
The Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life group, has also praised Puzder for his anti-abortion record. In a statement, the group’s president Marjorie Dannenfelser described Puzder as “a longtime pro-life and pro-woman leader who has long sought consensus on the issue of abortion” and said that “attempts to paint him as anti-woman are part of an ideologically motivated and unfair attack.”
Ed Foulke, who served as an assistant Labor secretary under President George W. Bush, said Puzder’s confirmation process could be taking more time than previous nominees, like Hilda Solis and Elaine Chao, because he is not known as well on Capitol Hill. “There were a lot of senators who already knew [Solis and Chao] before they were even nominated,” he said, and that the process moves faster when there are “known commodities.”
Michael Lotito, co-chair of Littler Mendelson’s Workplace Policy Institute, who has worked with Puzder through the International Franchise Association, said Puzder’s opponents are planting “rumors that the target is folding to show their allies that the plan is working in order to encourage them to attack even more viciously. “Andy is not withdrawing,” he said.
O’Neill of the National Organization for Women acknowledged that blocking Puzder’s nomination would be a challenge. “Our job is to make the case against him,” she said. “If we go down, we go down swinging.”
Alex Isenstadt and Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.