President Biden’s Labor secretary nominee appears to have reached a dead end in the Senate.
Almost four months after the White House rolled out Julie Su’s nomination in February, Democratic leadership is not shaking up their strategy, even as they’ve made little progress getting her across the finish line.
At the same time, Republicans are calling for her name to be withdrawn, and there is no sign of a vote coming anytime soon in the upper chamber.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Thursday teed up votes after the two-week July 4 recess on a slew of nominations, including former Rep. Xochitl Torres Small’s (D-N.M.) to be deputy secretary of Agriculture, Rosie Hidalgo to be the Justice Department’s director of Violence Against Women Office and another spate of Judicial nominees. That means the very earliest Su’s nomination would be considered is in mid-July, if at all.
“Frustrated,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee member who has lobbied the holdouts, said about his feelings on the languishing nomination. “I can’t predict what other people are going to do. But I do know this: keeping it hanging out there is good for nobody — not for the country, not for her, not for us. Let’s have a vote.”
At issue has been the inability to shake loose two of the three moderates — Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) — that Democrats need to back her nomination.
Manchin has long been viewed as the most unlikely of the three to back her on the floor. Tester has been peppered with questions for weeks about Su’s nomination but has consistently said that he is still deciding.
“I would love to [have a vote on her], but you know why? Because you guys would never have to ask me again how I was going to vote on Julie Su,” Tester said with a laugh last week.
Sinema has a policy of not previewing votes.
With little movement among the trio, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) emerged as the senator to watch during the confirmation fight, but the White House had nothing to report about how those conversations have been going.
Murkowski also declined to say Thursday whether she had taken a stance one way or another on Su’s nomination.
“I don’t know,” Murkowski said. “I don’t think she’s coming forward. Look at where we are right now. I haven’t seen anyone on the other side move on her.”
The administration has had a tough time getting some nominees through this year. Biden withdrew two nominations in March — Phillip Washington, Biden’s pick to lead the Federal Aviation Administration, and Gigi Sohn, Biden’s pick to serve as the top telecommunications regulator for the Federal Communications Commission. In May, he pulled his choice to lead the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and two judiciary picks.
Still, losing out on a Su’s confirmation to a Cabinet-level role would be a significant blow.
Schumer reiterated to reporters Wednesday that they were still working hard to get her confirmed.
The White House recently assembled a so-called war room to make calls every day about Su’s nomination, and chief of staff Jeff Zients, among others, had been speaking with Schumer and other Democrats regularly about it.
“We are definitely committed,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday. “The White House and outside groups continue … a full-court press to get Julie confirmed. That has not stopped.”
When pressed on if Su’s nomination will be pulled due to the lack of progress, the White House has stressed that she is highly qualified and points to Su’s role in brokering a recent tentative agreement between shippers and West Coast dockworkers — an accomplishment Biden also praised her for earlier this month.
Biden nominated her to replace Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, who is the first Cabinet secretary in the line of succession to leave his post since the start of the Biden administration.
The timing of Su’s potential failed nomination isn’t ideal for the president going into a reelection year.
The Biden campaign received over a dozen endorsements from labor groups, including the AFL-CIO, and has touted big labor as a major asset for them. Biden rallied with labor groups Saturday in Philadelphia to tout the boost from their endorsements.
Despite the poor optics of a flailing Labor secretary nominee, the White House has not changed up its strategy to get her over the top, a sign that they could have reached a dead end.
Meanwhile, Republicans have been consistent in their opposition to Su throughout the nomination process. That kept up last week when 33 Senate Republicans — led by Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) and including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — signed a letter to Biden calling on him to withdraw her nomination.
“Given this present state of affairs, we respectfully urge you to withdraw the nomination,” they wrote. “We appreciate your responsiveness to this request, and ask for prompt confirmation that the nomination of Julie A. Su is formally withdrawn.”
Specifically, Republicans have opposed Su over her handling of California’s unemployment insurance program, when the state paid out billions in fraudulent COVID-19 funds, and her stance on the gig economy and independent contractors.
The latter half of the opposition stems from a potential Department of Labor rule that would make it more difficult for workers to classify as independent contractors. Those individuals can be up to 30-percent cheaper for businesses than full-time employees. They also have fewer legal protections.
Some outside groups are also lining up to call for her name to be taken out of the running.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, a worker group that has opposed Su, wrote a letter to Biden on Thursday asking to withdraw her name. The trucker group said that her nomination hasn’t been supported in the Senate in part because of her “disastrous policies affecting the trucking industry” in California, including on gig workers.
Meanwhile, business groups that have long called on Senators to oppose her nomination, such as the International Franchise Association, were thrilled to see the Senate GOP letter this week pressuring the president to withdraw her name.