WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s nomination for the next labor secretary, Julie Su, advanced through a Senate committee Wednesday, but a handful of Democrats are withholding support, creating uncertainty ahead of a vote in the full chamber.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee advanced Su's nomination on a party-line vote. Every Democrat on the committee voted in favor of Su, but a number of their Democratic colleagues have declined to publicly support Su.
“My hope is that ultimately we’ll be able to find the votes for her to be successful coming out of this committee and then on the Senate floor,” said Sen. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat. “But there’s no question in my mind that no one has ever been nominated to be secretary of labor who is better qualified.”
Su would be the first Asian American in the Biden administration to serve in the Cabinet at the secretary level. She was previously confirmed as the deputy labor secretary, but has faced a campaign from business groups critical of her record leading California’s labor department. They have run billboard and digital ads against Su in West Virginia, Montana and Arizona.
Unions and some business organizations, including the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, have spoken up to support Su’s nomination.
Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin, Jon Tester and Mark Kelly and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an independent, have all declined to say whether they would vote for her confirmation. The White House has worked to win over those holdouts and Su has met with several senators in recent days, but top Democrats have acknowledged her nomination remains in doubt.
The Biden administration cannot afford to lose more than a couple of Democratic votes in the closely-divided Senate. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is also recovering from shingles in California, with no firm return date.
If Su's nomination fails, she would be the highest-ranking Biden nominee to be rejected by the Senate and leave a vacancy in the Cabinet. Su is currently acting labor secretary after Marty Walsh, the former mayor of Boston, left the White House last month.
Republicans appear unified in their opposition. Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said Su unfairly favored unions during her tenure leading the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency.
Su has also faced blame for problems at the California agency during the pandemic. The state paid out billions of dollars in fraudulent claims as an unprecedented number of people sought assistance and Congress lifted many of the checks on unemployment insurance applications.
“A qualified secretary of labor needs to successfully handle negotiations, be a competent manager of a department and refrain from partisan activism. I’ve not seen evidence of Ms. Su's ability to do any of these three,” Cassidy said.