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Trump’s labor secretary pick, Alexander Acosta, would be only Latino in Cabinet

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Thursday that he will nominate former Justice Department official R. Alexander Acosta as labor secretary after his first pick, fast-food executive Andy Puzder, withdrew.

If confirmed, Acosta would be the only Latino in Trump’s Cabinet.

“I think he’ll be a tremendous secretary of labor,” Trump said in announcing the pick at a White House news conference.

The Miami native and son of Cuban immigrants was assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under former President George W. Bush from 2003 to 2005. Acosta was the first Latino to serve as an assistant attorney general.

He then became U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, holding the job until 2009. Among his most high-profile cases was the prosecution of Washington, D.C., lobbyist Jack Abramoff on conspiracy and wire fraud charges. Abramoff pleaded guilty and served 43 months of a five-year, 10-month sentence.

Since 2009, Acosta has been dean of the law school at Florida International University in Miami.

Before joining the Justice Department, he served as a member of the National Labor Relations Board from 2002 to 2003. He began his legal career specializing in employment and labor issues in the Washington, D.C., office of the Kirkland & Ellis law firm.

“He has had a tremendous career,” Trump said, noting that Acosta has been confirmed by the Senate three times before.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which will consider Acosta’s nomination, praised the pick and promised to “schedule a hearing promptly.”

“Mr. Acosta’s nomination is off to a good start because he’s already been confirmed by the Senate three times,” Alexander said. “He has an impressive work and academic background.”

Puzder, chief executive of Carpinteria, Calif.-based CKE Restaurants Inc., parent company of the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s chains, withdrew the day before his Senate confirmation hearing after several Republicans opposed him because of a series of controversies, including admitting he had for years employed a housekeeper who was in the United States illegally and decades-old allegations of spousal abuse.

Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said the Senate needed “to conduct a thorough review” of Acosta after Puzder’s failed nomination.

“Our next secretary of labor must fully respect our laws designed to protect American workers,” Henderson said.

Democrats, unions, workers’ rights advocates and civil rights groups strongly opposed Puzder’s nomination.

If confirmed by the Senate, Acosta would lead a department that includes the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. and Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tracks and reports on job growth, wages and unemployment benefits.

Under President Barack Obama, the Labor Department was aggressive about protecting workers through new rules and enforcement actions. The Trump administration is expected to take a much different approach.

In January, the administration froze a regulation that would have extended overtime pay to 4 million more workers. This month, Trump issued a memo to the acting labor secretary calling for a review of a pending rule affecting retirement advisors. Known as the fiduciary rule, it requires investment brokers who handle retirement funds to put their clients’ interests ahead of other factors, such as their own compensation or company profits.

Republicans and key players in the financial industry have opposed the rule, saying it would drive up the cost of investments by forcing asset management firms to spend money on implementation and make it more difficult for average Americans to get retirement advice.

One issue from Acosta’s past that Democrats could jump on is a voting rights case in Ohio shortly before the 2004 presidential election. As assistant attorney general, Acosta filed a brief that supported the rights of citizens to challenge the eligibility of voters.

A civil rights lawyer representing the plaintiffs said at the time “the letter was highly irregular.” Bush narrowly won the state, which determined the outcome of his race with Democrat John Kerry.



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