Alexander Acosta was sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence as the nation’s new labor secretary on Friday, filling out President Donald Trump’s Cabinet on his 99th day in office.
The oath-taking Friday comes after the Senate’s 60-38 confirmation vote in which eight Democrats and one independent joined Republicans in voting yes.
“It is about finding and helping and supporting jobs and job growth,” Acosta said as his family looked on.
Acosta, the son of Cuban immigrants, is the nation’s 27th labor secretary, leading a sprawling agency that enforces more than 180 federal laws covering about 10 million employers and 125 million workers.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., spoke for many Republicans with a statement issued just after the vote saying that he hopes Acosta’s focus will be on “promoting labor policies that are free of unnecessarily burdensome federal regulations.” Scott said that he wants Acosta to permanently revoke rules governing financial advisers and increasing the number of workers for whom overtime pay is required.
Democrats said that any labor secretary should advocate for the American workers to whom Trump promised so much during his upstart presidential campaign. They said that Acosta has given no such commitment.
“Acosta failed this basic test,” tweeted Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
Acosta has been a federal prosecutor, a civil-rights chief at the Justice Department and a member of the National Labor Relations Board. He arrives at the top Labor post with relatively little clear record on some of the key pocketbook issues facing the administration, such as whether to expand the pool of American workers eligible for overtime pay.
Acosta wasn’t Trump’s first choice for the job: Former fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder withdrew his name from consideration last month, on the eve of his confirmation vote, after it was clear he did not have enough votes for confirmation.
Puzder acknowledged having hired a housekeeper not authorized to work in the U.S. and paying the related taxes years later – after Trump nominated him – and came under fire from Democrats for other issues related to his company and his private life.
Labor secretary was the last Cabinet post for Trump to fill. Trump’s choice for U.S. rrade representative, a job considered Cabinet-level, is awaiting a Senate vote.
From the beginning, Acosta’s was a quiet march to confirmation that stood out because it didn’t attract the deep partisan battles faced by some of Trump’s other nominees, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Justice Neil Gorsuch’s nomination provoked such a fight that majority Senate Republicans used the “nuclear option” to remove the 60-vote filibuster barrier for Supreme Court picks.
Thursday’s vote marked the fourth time that Acosta was confirmed by the Senate.
Democrats and most labor groups were largely muted in their response to Acosta’s nomination. At his confirmation hearing, Democratic Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Warren hammered Acosta for answers on a selection of issues important to labor and whether Acosta would cave to political pressure from Trump. Acosta refused to answer the policy questions until he’s confirmed, and he vowed to be an independent and fair voice for workers. Both senators said they had great concerns, and both voted no.
Our standard can’t be ‘not Puzder,’ ” Murray said Wednesday on the Senate floor.
Meanwhile, the Labor Department’s online landing page bears a glimpse of Acosta’s policy priorities: “Buy American, Hire American.” That’s the title of Trump’s executive order this week directing the secretaries of labor and other agencies to issue guidance within 60 days on policies that would “ensure that, to the extent permitted by law” federal aid “maximize the use of materials produced in the United States, including manufactured products; components of manufactured products; and materials such as steel, iron, aluminum, and cement.”