WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Labor Department said Wednesday he won’t allow potential political pressure from the administration to influence his hiring decisions and regrets he let that happen on his watch at the Justice Department.
But Alexander Acosta, testifying before the Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee, said little about what he would do about overtime pay and other issues if confirmed for the job. He would be the first Hispanic member of Trump’s Cabinet and is Trump’s second choice for the post, after fast food CEO Andrew Puzder withdrew his name.
Ultimately, Acosta said, the president would be his “boss.”
Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the committee, said that’s what concerns her.
The Florida International University law school dean, whose career was touched by a political hiring scandal while he led the Civil Rights Division under President George W. Bush, said he’s “very aware” that the department’s internal watchdog criticized him for insufficiently supervising a subordinate.
“I deeply regret it,” said Acosta.
Murray asked whether Acosta would stand up to any political pressure from Trump. Acosta’s reply: “Political views on the hiring of career attorneys for staff should not be used. If I am asked to do that I will not allow it.”
The committee is expected to vote as soon as next week on sending the nomination to the full Senate, a committee spokeswoman said.
Acosta declined to outline many policies he would pursue, though he did speak in favor of the youth training program Job Corps. For example, he would not say whether he would defend the rule extending overtime pay to some 4 million more people that had been blocked last year by a federal court in Texas. Nor would he say which other rules and regulations he would pull back, noting that Trump ordered Cabinet secretaries to review them.
“I think it’s important that we eliminate regulations that are not serving a useful purpose,” he said under questioning by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
The committee chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., made clear he wants dozens of Obama-era rules overturned, including the prospect of overtime that he said would burden businesses.
“One rule after another has stacked a big, wet blanket of costs and time-consuming mandates on job creators, causing them to create fewer jobs,” Alexander said.
Introducing Acosta were two 2016 presidential nominees, both Hispanic, were lost to Trump. GOP Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas said Acosta was qualified to head the Labor Department.
Acosta, the 48-year-old son of Cuban immigrants, has been unanimously confirmed by the Senate three times — to the National Labor Relations Board, to lead the Justice Department’s civil rights division and to become South Florida’s federal prosecutor.
That means nominee has received some screening, a fact Trump and Senate Republicans have cited.
At the hearing, Democrats furnished reminders of Puzder’s doomed nomination. He withdrew from consideration on the eve of his confirmation hearing after questions about his hiring of a housekeeper not authorized to work in the U.S. and about other issues. Puzder could not get enough Republican support to be confirmed.
Acosta is in no such jeopardy so far. One Democrat has even pledged for vote for him: Sen. Bill Nelson of Acosta’s home state of Florida.