The Senate is deadlocked in President Joe Biden’s choice for Labor Secretary Julie Su, and Democrats face a dilemma over how to proceed.
Nearly five months after Su’s nomination, it’s unclear when — or if — the chamber will hold a vote to confirm it. If confirmed, Su would be the first Asian American to serve as cabinet secretary under Biden. She has the endorsement of many Democrats and union leaders.
But Su, who currently serves as the acting labor secretary, could still run the department anyway. Federal law It places no limits on how long Su can serve as acting labor secretary without being confirmed. TO 1946 lawmodified in 1986, allows the Assistant Secretary of Labor, who Su served under the previous title, “to perform the duties of the Secretary until a successor is named.” The rule is unique to the Department of Labor: Many other federal job postings are governed by the Vacancies Lawwhich requires replacements for certain federal agencies within a 210-day time limit.
“I hope she has the votes to become a secretary. If not, of course, she should stay where she is,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Chairman of Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP). Committee, he said in a brief interview. “She’s doing a great job. Why wouldn’t you?”
Su’s nomination has been stuck in a holding pattern with key centrists, including Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz. and Jon Tester, D-Mont. – Refusing to say publicly where she stands on her.
After months of silence, Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., spoke out against Su’s nomination Thursday, calling his “more progressive background” an obstacle when it comes to forging “compromises acceptable to both parties.” . He said he wants a voice for “both labor and industry” in the role of labor secretary.
All three voted to confirm her as Assistant Secretary of Labor in July 2021, but she garnered zero Republican votes, leaving little hope of gaining Republican support for a promotion. Without Manchin, in a 51-vote majority, she would need all 50 other Democrats in the caucuses.
The deadlocked nomination presents a dilemma for Biden.
Keeping Su without a confirmation vote would face pushback from Republicans and potentially some Democratic skeptics. But removing her could present other headaches for Biden as he hopes for re-election in 2024. Removing the labor-backed Su and finding a more pro-business candidate risks making unions, a cornerstone of power Democratic election, face off. Biden has promised to be “the most pro-union president” in American history. He could also upset prominent Asian Americans, who have already criticized Biden for inadequate representation of the fast-growing demographic in the highest-ranking posts in the administration.
The HELP Committee voted along party lines, 11-10, to advance Su’s nomination on April 26. But there has been no movement since, an unusual pause for a high-profile candidate.
Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said Senate Democrats are one vote short, but declined to say who she was referring to. She took issue with senators who have yet to decide where she stands over hers, calling it “unfair” to the candidate.
“It would be a terrible thing for someone as qualified and competent as her to withdraw her nomination,” he said. “She deserves our full support…All the Democrats supported her for Representative. She has already demonstrated her ability to run this department as a secretary.”
Some of Su’s Democratic supporters support keeping her as acting chief if she can’t be confirmed, while others refuse to entertain the idea, hoping it will eventually win Senate approval.
“It is important that we have a labor secretary and she is already doing the job. So yeah, that would make sense,” said Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz.
Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., echoed his colleague, emphasizing his admiration for Su’s qualifications.
“I’m not sure I really understand the reasons beyond politics that he’s faced, you know, a steep hill to be confirmed,” he said. “But in terms of my perspective on what this country needs… she is.”
But Democrats who are silent on Su aren’t so sure he should go without formal confirmation.
“I myself do not support that. I did not support him in the last administration. I don’t support him on this one,” Tester said. “I just don’t think they can do the job they need to do in an acting role,” she added. “That’s my own opinion, I could be wrong. But I think there’s a lot more certainty if it’s been confirmed.”
Tester said he is “still receiving information” about Su and that he has not been contacted by the White House about the candidate.
Manchin said he had not given the chance for Su to stay on as acting secretary. any thought.
And Republicans, who widely oppose the former civil rights litigator’s nomination and have called on Biden to withdraw it, caution against keeping it without full confirmation.
“I would be strongly opposed,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, the top Republican on the HELP panel. “It appears to defy advice and consent.”
A White House official said Biden “continues to support” Su for the job and vowed to “keep fighting for” her win in the Senate, praising her qualifications. “The president’s support for Acting Secretary Su is unwavering and we hope Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema will reconsider her position,” the official said.
Other Democrats are also joining Su.
“AANHPI representation is important, but Julie Su is also the most qualified candidate to be our next Secretary of Labor,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., said in a statement. “There is no one more ready and prepared to lead the Department on day one than she is. Any senator who voted to confirm the Secretary [Marty] Walsh should also vote to confirm Acting Secretary Su. I know I will.”
Several Democratic senators refused to consider the possibility that Su might not get the Senate’s seal of approval.
“It will have enough votes. We will confirm it,” said Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
“I’m not going to consider that possibility,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. “I’m a big fan of Julie Su.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., deflected questions from reporters Tuesday about whether Su should continue to serve as acting labor secretary if she can’t be confirmed.
“I think she will be a very good job secretary,” he said. “And we’re working hard to get it approved.”