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Julie Su stares down rocky road to Labor secretary

Julie Su will appear before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on Thursday for her hearing to become Labor secretary as she tries to navigate a field of landmines en route to winning confirmation to the post. 

And it’s not just Republican lawmakers standing in the way. Some business groups and coalitions are doling out ad campaigns to pressure lawmakers into rejecting her nomination.

Su, who serves in the No. 2 post at the Labor Department, is expected to receive no GOP help to win the department’s top job, and she could see her nomination tanked if only one Senate Democrat opposes her. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) reportedly has privately expressed reservations about her to replace Marty Walsh. A number of moderate Democrats also remain noncommittal thus far.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) told reporters this week that he remains undecided. He will meet with her in the coming weeks, according to a spokeswoman.

“I’m very ambivalent,” Tester said, noting he voted for her to be Walsh’s deputy. “I don’t have a problem with her right now. We’ll see how this goes.”

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), who often votes with Democrats, also remains up for grabs. Sinema has a policy of not previewing her votes in advance. 

Adding a layer of uncertainty is the status of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who remains sidelined during her recovery from shingles. If she is not back to work in Washington by the time of a final floor vote, Democrats won’t be able to afford losing a single vote. If Feinstein is present, the 51-49 majority would allow the party one defection. 

Given the state of play, Democrats are anxious to see whether Su will have the votes when all is said and done. 

“Ask me tomorrow,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said when asked about his level of confidence in Su ultimately winning confirmation. “We’ll kind of see some temperatures [during the hearing]. We had a very good discussion about it in the caucus lunch yesterday. … So little win by little.”   

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the HELP Committee chairman, continued to project optimism earlier this week, telling reporters Su is “eminently qualified for this position” and that “she’s doing a very good job now as deputy secretary.”

Su did not receive any Republican votes two years ago when she was confirmed to her current post. That is not expected to change this time as they continue to criticize her over her handling of California’s unemployment insurance program when the state lost $30 billion by paying out fraudulent jobless benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They are also quick to highlight her stance on independent contractors and the gig economy. During her time in the Golden State, Su was a leading supporter of California’s Assembly Bill 5 law that introduced a three-stage test to prove a worker is an independent contractor rather than an employee.

“It’s going to be a tough fight,” Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.). “It’s going to be hard.” 

Franchisers and gig companies are concerned about how Su would handle a Biden administration proposal to reclassify independent contractors as employees, a potential threat to their business models. 

Stand Against Su, a coalition that says it’s backed by franchisees and freelancers, is running digital and newspaper ads in West Virginia, Montana, Arizona and Maine to pressure key senators to reject Su’s nomination. 

“Don’t let Julie Su turn Arizona into California,” reads one ad

The coalition is led in part by the California Business and Industrial Alliance, which is airing TV ads in D.C. and Montana that paint Su as an incompetent executive. 

Meanwhile, the White House has not wavered on its support for Su.

“We do feel confident about Julie’s confirmation process,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday. “She has a proven track record that she can stand on proudly and … the president is proud to have nominated her.”

“Let’s not forget, she actually went through this process before. It was done by all Senate Democrats at that time,” Jean-Pierre added, also outlining the business groups that have supported Su.

Biden nominated Su in February to replace Walsh, who is the first Cabinet secretary in the line of succession to leave his post since the start of the administration. Su would be the first Asian American member of Biden’s Cabinet, if confirmed. The administration is the first in more than 20 years not to have an Asian American Cabinet secretary.

Jean-Pierre sidestepped a question about what feedback the White House is getting about Su from Tester and Manchin, instead reiterating that Su got support from all Democrats in the Senate when she was confirmed as deputy director.

When Manchin supported Su for deputy director, he said having Walsh in place as secretary was the driving factor. The White House often points to Su’s work with Walsh to argue she is qualified to take over his role.

Business interests are also putting tremendous pressure on senators to block Su’s nomination through an onslaught of ads, letters and opinion pieces.

Franchisers and restaurants forcefully opposed a Su-backed California law to improve wages and workplace standards for fast-food workers. 

Arizona and West Virginia business groups penned letters to senators Wednesday warning Su would “nationalize California’s harmful policies,” referring to the fast-food law and a California law that reclassified some contractors as employees. 

Flex, a trade association representing Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and other gig companies, has also expressed concern about Su’s record. The group on Wednesday sent lawmakers a list of questions for Su focused on how she would handle the federal independent contractor rule.

The AFL-CIO is fighting back with its own six-figure ad and grassroots mobilization campaign targeting Montana, West Virginia, Arizona and Maine dubbed “Stand with Su.”

“There are lobbyists and corporate interests working night and day, behind closed doors, to stop her confirmation,” AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler told reporters Wednesday. 

“They’re terrified of seeing somebody like Julie who actually looks out for working people and can’t be bought,” she continued. “They’re terrified of what might happen when you level the playing field and stop them from exploiting workers and union busting.”

Source: The Hill

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