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Quick-service CEO withdraws as labor secretary nominee

GOP senators were reportedly wavering

Andrew Puzder, the nominee for Secretary of Labor, withdrew his nomination Wednesday after a number of senators expressed wavering support.

“After careful consideration and discussions with my family, I am withdrawing my nomination for Secretary of Labor,” Puzder said in a statement, which came the day before his Senate confirmation hearing.

As President Donald Trump's nominee for the secretary of labor, the restaurant industry saw Puzder as an ally for employers.

However, at least four Republican senators were expressed concern over the nomination as a Senate panel was set Thursday to hold its first confirmation hearing and posing a hurdle for the nominee, reports said.

CNN and Reuters reported Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Tim Scott of South Carolina and Johnny Isakson of Georgia had expressed reservations about the nominee. All four sit on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which had delayed Puzder’s hearing five times.

Democrats earlier had called for the withdrawal of Puzder, CEO of Carpinteria, Calif.-based CKE Restaurants Holdings Inc., parent to the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s chains.

Puzder thanked the president for the nomination, adding: “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,” he said, “I fully support the president and his highly qualified team.”

The conservative National Review on Wednesday urged Senators to reject Puzder, saying he “was from the start an odd choice to head Donald Trump’s Labor Department.” 

“Puzder has long been one of corporate America’s most high-profile advocates of Gang of Eight-style ‘comprehensive immigration reform’ — or, put another way, one of the most high-profile advocates of precisely the approach to immigration policy that Donald Trump opposed during his campaign,” the National Review said.

“The case for his confirmation has diminished to the point of disappearing,” it continued. “Not only is Puzder a representative of the worst reflex of corporate America on one of Trump’s signature issues, he is now significantly weakened.”

Puzder served as one of Trump’s surrogate spokesmen on the campaign trail. In a fall interview, Puzder told Nation’s Restaurant News he disagreed with some of the President’s early policies on immigration.

 “His proposals on illegal immigration — such as building the wall, increasing enforcement of the law, deporting criminal aliens, defunding sanctuary cities, reducing visa over-stays and implementing further use of E-Verify, which I think is a very good system and we already use it extensively — those are very reasonable and sensible,” Puzder said.

But Puzder said he disagreed with Trump on how to deal with immigrants living in the United States without legal documentation. Trump had said he would call for federal agencies to deport as many as two million undocumented aliens within days of taking office.

“I think we probably need a more rational approach to deal with them rather than just trying to deport 11 million people,” Puzder said.

Part of the delays in Puzder’s nomination process hinged on ethics paperwork.

Puzder had reached an ethics agreement with federal regulators, calling for him to resign from his positions at CKE Restaurants and sell his stake to CKE if he is confirmed.

According to SEC documents from 2012, Puzder had a 3.3-percent ownership interest in CKE when Apollo Global Management acquired the company. The next year, CKE was sold to the Atlanta-based private-equity firm Roark Capital.

“Should Mr. Puzder be confirmed, at the time he takes office as Secretary of Labor, he will have no financial interest with CKE or Roark Capital,” said George Thompson, a spokesman for Puzder.

Puzder has agreed to recuse himself from any matter involving CKE for his entire term in office unless he is cleared in accordance with government ethics rules, Thompson said. 

Additionally, Puzder has resigned his positions from the International Franchise Association and the American Enterprise Institute. And he will not participate in any Department of Labor decision in those organizations for a year.

Puzder also agreed to sell his stock in more than 200 companies within 90 days of his confirmation.

Puzder also ran into other difficulties when he admitted to employing an undocumented immigrant as a house cleaner and claims of abuse from his ex-wife, which were documented in an Oprah Winfrey broadcast and replayed for senators this week.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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