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Senate confirms Eugene Scalia as labor secretary, succeeding Alex Acosta who resigned in July amid outcry over Epstein plea deal

Secretary of labor nominee Eugene Scalia at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Sept. 19, 2019. (Shawn Thew/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

The Senate on Thursday confirmed Eugene Scalia to succeed Alex Acosta, the labor secretary who resigned in July amid an outcry over his role in a plea deal for the multimillionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Scalia is a partner at the Washington law firm Gibson Dunn, where he has represented companies such as Walmart, Ford and UPS in workers rights claims. He is also the son of the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia.

Scalia was confirmed Thursday on a 53-to-44 vote.

Democrats have argued that Scalia’s record as a corporate lawyer has shown him to be “anti-worker.” In remarks on the Senate floor Thursday morning, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) contended that Scalia fought to protect the interests of chief executives and the wealthy elite and opposed worker protections throughout his career, describing his nomination by President Trump as a “disgrace.”

“This guy shouldn’t even make it for secretary of commerce, let alone secretary of labor, which is supposed to protect and defend the working people of America,” Schumer said.

Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, the country’s largest federation of labor unions, called Scalia a “lifelong union-buster” and said his nomination goes against Trump’s campaign pledge to stand on the side of workers.

“It’s insulting, it’s dangerous, and workers are not going to forget it,” Trumka said on a call with reporters Thursday morning.

During his confirmation hearing this month, Scalia argued that he has advocated for workers. He noted that during a stint as the Department of Labor’s chief lawyer during the George W. Bush administration, he had advocated for poultry workers who were not being paid for the time spent dressing in safety gear before work.

He also said he believed that labor unions were “among the most effective advocates you will see for workplace safety and health” and that it was “fundamental” that workers have a choice about joining unions.

The hearing also shone a spotlight on some of Scalia’s past writings, including op-eds he wrote as a student at the University of Virginia in the 1980s in which he said gay parents were “in conflict with the traditional organization of society” and should not be treated “as equally acceptable or desirable as the traditional family.”

In response, Scalia noted that much time had passed since 1985 but eventually said he would not make such statements again and thought it wrong for employers to fire workers on the basis of the workers’ sexual orientation or gender identity.

Trump has hailed Scalia as “one of the finest minds and lawyers in Washington” and as having had “a fantastic career.”

“His father, as you know, was the great, great, great Supreme Court justice,” the president told reporters last month. “Even the people with not his views would say he was a great gentleman, a great man.”

Acosta’s resignation in July came one day after he held a news conference at which he issued a defiant defense of his handling of the Epstein plea deal as a U.S. attorney in Florida years earlier. The deal allowed the financier to plead guilty in state court to lesser offenses in a sex-crimes case involving underage girls.

Epstein died in an apparent suicide in August.