Skip to Content

Key Senate Democrats remain non-committal on Biden’s labor secretary pick ahead of confirmation hearing

<i>Win McNamee/Getty Images</i><br/>President Joe Biden announces Julie Su as his nominee to be the next Secretary of Labor during an event in the East Room of the White House
Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images
President Joe Biden announces Julie Su as his nominee to be the next Secretary of Labor during an event in the East Room of the White House

By Maegan Vazquez, Manu Raju, Nicky Robertson and Ted Barrett, CNN

President Joe Biden‘s pick to be the next labor secretary, Julie Su, has yet to secure the support of key Democrats ahead of her nomination hearing on Thursday, suggesting she faces an uphill battle to confirmation by the Senate.

The tepid reception among some members of the president’s own party is part of a broader issue that’s emerged in recent months for the Biden administration. Despite a narrow majority in the Senate, Democrats have with more recent frequency failed to sign off on high-profile Biden appointees — torpedoing Phil Washington‘s nomination to lead the Federal Aviation Administration as well as Gigi Sohn‘s nomination to the Federal Communications Commission. If Su does not secure enough support from the Senate, she would be the highest-ranking Biden nominee so far to fail to be confirmed.

In the 51-49 Democratic-controlled Senate, more than two liberal defections could tank the nomination. And if California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who has been away from Congress while recovering from shingles for the past two months, or another Democratic senator is absent, the path would narrow ever more.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has called on the chamber to confirm Biden’s labor nominee, and on Tuesday afternoon, Su was on Capitol Hill meeting with Democratic Majority Whip Dick Durbin. But two Democratic senators up for reelection in red states, Montana Sen. Jon Tester and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, are not ready to throw their support behind her yet. It’s also not clear how Arizona independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who left the Democratic Party last year but kept her committee assignments with the majority, will vote.

Tester, who says he plans to meet with Su following Thursday’s hearing, told reporters on Tuesday that he remains “very ambivalent,” adding, “I voted for her before. I don’t have a problem with her right now.”

“I have no comment,” Manchin told CNN three times when asked about Su.

Hannah Hurley, a spokesperson for Sinema’s office, told CNN that the senator “does not preview her votes.”

Su was narrowly confirmed to be the deputy secretary of labor in 2021, receiving unanimous support at the time from Senate Democrats and no support from Republicans. In March, when then-Labor Secretary Marty Walsh departed the administration, Su was appointed acting secretary of the agency.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, the ranking member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, which will oversee Su’s confirmation hearing, has suggested that Su lacks the bona fides to handle labor negotiations.

“Setting his politics aside, no one could say Marty Walsh didn’t have significant experience in negotiations and managing organizations,” Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican, said in a statement Monday. “With 150 labor contracts expiring this year, the potential of replacing him with someone who has no direct experience handling labor disputes should be concerning.”

Prior to joining the Biden administration, Su was the secretary for the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency and the state’s labor commissioner. Su has gained critics over her time in leadership in California as well as her support for A.B. 5, a California law that aims to reclassify certain gig workers as regular employees.

She faced scrutiny for California’s handling of unemployment benefits during the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly her oversight of the state’s Employment Development Department. During the pandemic, the department delayed approving unemployment benefits and paid out billions on fraudulent claims. Su has said EDD’s systems were not prepared for the number of unemployment claims made.

Su will emphasize the importance of American small businesses during the hearing Thursday, according to an excerpt of her prepared opening remarks provided to CNN by a source familiar with the nomination process, telling committee members that she has “seen first-hand the strength and creativity of American workers and business owners.”

“While I was growing up, my family also saw opportunity and their shot at the middle class in the form of small businesses. They owned a dry cleaning and laundromat business, and then a franchise pizza restaurant,” Su is expected to say. “For years, my dad would work his day job and then head right to the pizza shop, returning home after 10 pm, often with leftover pizza for our school lunches the next day. I know small business owners are the engines of our economy, because I watched it every day.”

The high-stakes nomination has pushed outside groups to lodge broad public efforts to lobby for and against Su’s leadership.

One outside group called “Stand Against Su” has launched a public ad campaign lobbying against the nominee, calling her a “fiery critic of capitalism” and citing her past actions in California. Provisions she has supported, they argue, have made it more difficult for independent contractors and franchisees to operate in California.

The AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, is leading a new campaign in support of Su, Director of Public Affairs Ray Zaccaro confirmed to CNN. The campaign, led by AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, will include a six-figure digital ad buy targeting Arizona and other states, as well as Washington, DC. The federation is also committing resources and mobilizing the 60 affiliate unions nationally as part of the effort. Punchbowl News first reported on the federation’s campaign launch.

The White House continues to stand by Su, pointing to Senate Democrats’ past unanimous support during her last confirmation proceedings.

A White House official told CNN Su was part of the efforts to avert a rail shutdown last year, and that she has met with senators from both sides of the aisle during the nomination process. They further pointed out that she’s offered to meet with every member of the Senate HELP Committee.

“We’re looking forward to the hearing coming up on Thursday and feel confident … about Julie’s confirmation process. … She has a proven track record she can stand on proudly,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Tuesday. “The president is proud to have nominated her.”

This story has been updated with additional developments.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

Jump to comments ↓

CNN Newsource


KTVZ NewsChannel 21 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content