Andrew Puzder, President Trump's pick to head the Department of Labor, withdrew his nomination Wednesday after a group of Republican senators reportedly threatened to defeat his nomination.
Call it Democrats' consolation prize.
Puzder became a Democratic target after they failed to take down a number of other, more high-profile Trump nominees — most notably Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. All had nearly united Democratic opposition, with 47 of 48 Democrats voting against the final three, and all 48 Democrats plus two Republicans voting against DeVos (who required a tiebreaker vote from Vice President Pence).
The Puzder defeat is likely to be cheered by the left, which was spoiling for basically any fight — and victory — right now. And they'll point out that their opposition was ideologically grounded, focused on Puzder's labor practices as the head of the parent company of Hardee's and Carl's Jr.
But Puzder's defeat, while perhaps a shot in the arm for Democrats, doesn't rank as a game-changer. It's pretty business-as-usual for Cabinet picks, in fact.
For one, it's a very low-profile Cabinet position. To get a sense of how low-profile the job of labor secretary is, see if you can name two of the three labor secretaries from the 21st century. If you can, it's probably because one of them is in line to be Trump's transportation secretary (Elaine Chao) and another is running for Democratic National Committee chairman and got some buzz as a potential Hillary Clinton vice-presidential pick (Thomas Perez). The work they do just isn't front-page news.
Second is that there was actually plenty of resistance from the right on Puzder — specifically when it came to his views on expanding legal immigration. The conservative National Review came out against him earlier Wednesday on this count. “Puzder himself has been a reliable font of clichés in favor of higher levels of legal immigration,” its editors said.
And thirdly and most importantly, Puzder's defeat appears to owe as much to his personal problems as anything else. Specifically, Puzder's ex-wife appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in disguise on an episode called “High-Class Battered Women” in 1990 and accused him of multiple episodes of physical assault — something she has since recanted. A watchdog group was trying to unseal their divorce records before Puzder's confirmation vote. Winfrey recently provided the tape of the interview to the Senate.
Puzder's personal problems also include employing an undocumented immigrant as his family's housekeeper, which is a common reason for Cabinet picks to bow out.
In fact, in
2004 2001, George W. Bush's pick for the very same job, Linda Chavez, withdrew after it was revealed she had employed a longtime houseguest who was an undocumented immigrant. Bush's pick for homeland security secretary, Bernard Kerik, withdrew over employing an illegal immigrant, as did two separate picks for Bill Clinton's attorney general back in the 1990s.
More recently, Barack Obama had several of his initial Cabinet picks withdraw over conflicts of interest (commerce secretary nominee Bill Richardson) and unpaid taxes (HHS nominee Tom Daschle).
In the end, it shouldn't really be surprising that personal problems brought down one of Trump's nominees. It happens a lot. At least one has come up short for each of the past five presidents.
And the idea that this is a rebuke of Trump or a sign that Democrats suddenly found out how to beat him just isn't the case.