Democrats to Argue Republicans Rushing Trump’s Labor Nominee
President Donald Trump's nominee to run the Labor Department faces a Senate confirmation hearing, even as Democrats argue that they haven't had enough time to scour his record of legal work for corporate interests.
Although Trump tweeted in mid-July that Eugene Scalia was his pick, the committee didn't officially receive the nomination until Sept. 11, the week before Thursday's hearing. The Republican GOP-led Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee panel has set a vote on the nomination early next week.
A Democratic aide who wasn't authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity said Democratic lawmakers see the compressed timeframe as not allowing senators to properly investigate Scalia's history as an attorney for dozens of clients. But a Republican aide, who also requested anonymity for the same reason, said all of Scalia's required paperwork, which would include his financial disclosure and ethics agreements, has been available for committee members to review since late August.
Trump's nomination of Scalia is opposed by the AFL-CIO, which has described him as a union-busting lawyer who has eroded labor rights and consumer protections. But business groups are squarely behind Scalia, viewing him as a reliable opponent of regulatory overreach and red tape. If Scalia is confirmed by the Senate, he'll be the seventh former lobbyist to hold a Cabinet-level post in the Trump administration.
Scalia, 56, served for a year as the Labor Department's top lawyer, its solicitor, during the George W. Bush administration. But most of his career has been spent as a partner in the Washington office of the Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher firm, where he has run up a string of victories in court cases on behalf of business interests challenging labor and financial regulations.
On his financial disclosure form filed with the Office of Government Ethics, Scalia listed 49 clients who paid him $5,000 or more for legal services, including e-cigarette giant Juul Labs, Facebook, Ford, Walmart and Bank of America. Disclosure records show Scalia was registered in 2010 and 2011 to lobby for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Scalia is likely to be questioned about changes the Labor Department is making to an Obama-era rule on overtime pay. The Obama regulations were scheduled to take effect in 2016 but were put on hold by a federal lawsuit.
A revised proposal issued in March raised the annual pay threshold at which workers would be exempt from overtime to $35,308 from the current $23,660, expanding overtime pay to roughly 1 million workers. The Obama plan set the threshold at more than $47,000 and would have affected an estimated 4.2 million people.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, expressed concern Wednesday over Scalia's record on protecting government whistleblowers. Grassley said on a call with reporters that while serving as Labor's top lawyer Scalia argued not all disclosures made to Congress are protected under federal whistleblower laws and that the separation of powers doctrine prevents whistleblowers from disclosing certain information to Congress.
Trump's previous labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, resigned in July. He had come under renewed criticism for his handling of a 2008 secret plea deal with financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was found dead last month in his cell at a federal jail in Manhattan after a July arrest on sex trafficking charges.
Deputy Labor Secretary Pat Pizzella has been serving as acting secretary until Scalia is confirmed.