Murkowski emerges as senator to watch in Labor nomination fight
By The Citizen on June 7, 2023
The White House and Senate Democrats are refocusing their efforts on Julie Su’s nomination to become Labor secretary and are pushing for Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to break party lines and support her as they struggle to win over a group of Democratic moderates.
For months, Su and Democrats have been unable to win over the requisite support from a trio of senators — Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) — leaving her nomination in limbo and forcing them to look elsewhere to get her over the finish line.
According to one Senate Republican, Democrats are attempting to woo Murkowski to back the Labor nominee amid continued uncertainty on their side.
The Alaska Republican told The Hill that she has had discussions with “people on both sides of her nomination” and indicated she is undecided on Su. She added that she has been in touch with the administration recently to discuss Labor-related issues, headlined by the H2B visa program for seafood processors in her home state.
“I don’t even know if Su is coming up,” Murkowski said. “It’s kind of been kind of silent here for a while. … I’m not sure they’ve got all the Democrats.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, declined to say whether the party is trying to win over the Alaska centrist.
“I can’t tell you that,” Durbin said. “I don’t know.”
However, top Democrats maintain they still believe there’s an avenue to usher Su through to win the needed number of votes. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters on Wednesday that Democrats are “working very, very hard” to get her confirmed.
The troubles surrounding her nomination burst into view last week when Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) complained about the administration’s inclusion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline in the debt ceiling deal, saying that he didn’t get a heads up despite the White House’s repeated calls for his help in cajoling moderate Democrats to support Su.
“I’m hopeful,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), the No. 3 Senate Democrat, told The Hill. “I can’t say that I know for sure but I think she’s terrific and I hope so. It would be a real loss. … I would say it’s close right now.”
However, the struggle to win over the Democratic moderates and Sinema is evident. Manchin told Politico on Wednesday that has no firm timeline to make a decision. Sinema has a policy of not previewing her votes and a spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.
As for Tester, he told The Hill that he is continuing to weigh a decision and added that if Su lacks the votes, the White House should yank her nomination.
“I’m still looking. Still taking input,” Tester said before wondering if a vote will ever take place. “Are we ever going to vote on her? … I don’t know. I have no idea. I have not been playing in that sandbox at all. I’m just taking input from Montanans.”
The White House launched into high gear this week with their lobbying efforts for Su, but haven’t confirmed which senators they are specifically talking to.
Chief of staff Jeff Zients and director of legislative affairs Louisa Terrell have been leading the charge out of the White House and speaking regularly with Schumer, as well as other senators “multiple times a week,” according to a White House official.
Zients has also been speaking regularly to Su and is in touch with outside groups and stakeholders about her nomination. Additionally, Terrell has been working closely with Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) to push support for Su.
Su attended a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday as acting secretary and ahead of it, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stressed that Biden has “confidence that she will get through.”
“We’re going to do everything that we can to make sure that she actually becomes secretary,” she added.
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.
Biden nominated Su in February to replace former Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, who is the first Cabinet secretary in the line of succession to leave his post since the start of the administration. Su was confirmed as deputy Labor secretary in July 2021 with no GOP votes.
In their opposition, Republicans have pointed to her stance on independent contractors and the gig economy and her handling of California’s unemployment insurance program when the state paid out billions in fraudulent claims.
“It’s going to be tough and I’ve talked of the moderate Dems. I can’t believe we can’t get a couple of Republicans,” Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, told The Hill. “There is no one like Julie Su I’ve met anywhere in the bureaucracy that understands apprenticeships and how skills training can occur, how we can do it at scale.”
“Maybe she tweeted sometime and it wasn’t the perfect tweet. Alright! Maybe it’s the age of partisanship where you don’t want to be approving an appointee of this president at this moment,” he said.
Hickenlooper added that he has not discussed Su’s nomination with Murkowski in roughly a month, but intends to do so in the near future.
“She’s on my list,” Hickenlooper added.
Outside groups, particularly the AFL-CIO, also stepped up their efforts to help Su recently and have been pushing Democrats to get her nomination across the line.
AFL-CIO sent a letter to Democratic senators on Wednesday that included other union presidents, all voicing their unanimous support for Su. When Biden first announced her nomination, the AFL-CIO launched a six-figure digital ad buy to back Su and the ad has been playing in the Washington, D.C., area and in Sinema’s home state of Arizona.
Also this week, AFL-CIO representatives have been calling Democratic senators to persuade them to vote for Su.
Additionally, diverse groups around Capitol Hill have also been pushing for Su.
The chairs of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and Democratic Women’s Caucus sent a letter on Wednesday with six Senators and 61 Members of Congress, urging Senate leadership to get her confirmed.