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Fast food CEO Andrew Puzder withdraws as nominee for labor secretary

In this Nov. 19, 2016 file photo, then-President-elect Donald Trump walks Labor Secretary-designate Andrew Puzder from Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Bedminster, N.J. (Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)
Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Fast food CEO Andrew Puzder said Wednesday he is withdrawing as President Donald Trump’s nominee for labor secretary.

The fast food executive said in a statement provided to The Associated Press that he was “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.”

Puzder said, “While I won’t be serving in the administration, I fully support the President and his highly qualified team.”

Puzder’s confirmation hearing was scheduled for Thursday. But some Republicans had raised concerns about his failure to pay taxes for five years on a former housekeeper who wasn’t authorized to work in the U.S.

Puzder is CEO of CKE Restaurants Inc., which runs the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s chains.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell informed the White House that Puzder lacked the votes to win confirmation in the Senate, the Washington Post reported. The news, confirmed by a senior Senate aide who requested anonymity, came amidst growing resistance from Republicans and conservative organizations concerned about Pudzer’s personal background and business record, as well as his failure to pay taxes for five years on a former housekeeper who wasn’t authorized to work in the U.S.

One Republican senator said more than six GOP senators asked the White House to not go through with Puzder’s hearing Thursday because they don’t see themselves voting to confirm him. That would put the nomination in jeopardy, since Senate Republicans have a 52-48 majority and Democrats are solidly opposed.

Puzder has been under fire for remarks on women and people who work for his restaurants. Critiques also include allegations of domestic abuse and financial conflicts of interest.

McConnell had mounted a defense of Puzder’s nomination, vowing to stick with him despite Puzder’s acknowledgement of employing the housekeeper not authorized to work in the U.S.

Puzder fired the worker but did not pay related taxes until after Trump nominated him Dec. 9. Employing people not authorized to work in the United States has sunk Cabinet nominations by previous presidents.

Puzder’s opponents had long laid the groundwork for their case that workers at Puzder’s fast food business, including Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., were treated shabbily. They argue that the nominee opposes worker-friendly policies – such as a big minimum wage hike and an overtime rule that expands the number of eligible people. And they say that despite Puzder’s plan to divest from his financial holdings if confirmed, he favors business interests over worker protections enforced by the Labor Department. Their Twitter rallying cry against Puzder: #antilaborsecretary.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce had urged the Senate and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions to confirm Puzder in part because, it said, he would be “the first CEO of a company to go directly to serving as secretary of labor.”

“This means he will know better than any other secretary the impact that the department’s actions have on companies and the economy,” the Chamber’s Neil L. Bradly wrote in a letter to Republican Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and ranking Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington.

Puzder’s opponents filled senators’ mailboxes, too. “It is hard to imagine a worse and more insulting candidate to head a federal agency whose primary role is to advance the welfare of working people,” the National Nurses United wrote to members of the committee.