President Trump announced Thursday that he plans to nominate Eugene Scalia, the son of late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, as his next Labor secretary — succeeding Alexander Acosta, who announced his resignation last week amid an uproar over an old plea deal he struck with a wealthy financier facing a new round of sex trafficking charges.
“I am pleased to announce that it is my intention to nominate Gene Scalia as the new Secretary of Labor. Gene has led a life of great success in the legal and labor field and is highly respected not only as a lawyer, but as a lawyer with great experience working with labor and everyone else,” Trump said Thursday night in a pair of tweets. “He will be a great member of an Administration that has done more in the first 2 1 /2 years than perhaps any Administration in history!”
Scalia, one of the late justice’s nine children, is a veteran attorney well-versed in regulatory matters who served as the top lawyer for the Labor Department under the George W. Bush administration. He is a partner at Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, a Washington law firm, specializing in administrative law and bringing with him deep experience in challenging federal regulations.
After his tenure as the solicitor for the Labor Department, Scalia was hired by Wal-Mart Stores in 2005 to defend the merchandise giant in court as it faced lawsuits accusing it of illegally firing corporate whistleblowers.
Scalia, whose family is revered among conservatives, is likely to face little trouble getting confirmed in the Republican-controlled Senate and already has his legions of admirers in the chamber.
One major booster on Scalia’s behalf was Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who privately spoke to a number of top administration officials — including presidential son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, Attorney General William P. Barr, White House counsel Pat Cipollone and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney — about nominating Scalia to the Labor job, according to a GOP official familiar with the discussions. Scalia served as a special assistant to Barr during his previous tenure as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush.
The White House had also asked senators for their feedback on Scalia for the Labor position, according to another official familiar with the deliberations.
Cotton praised Scalia as “an outstanding lawyer” in a statement late Thursday. “I’m confident he’ll be a champion for working Americans against red tape and burdensome regulation as Labor Secretary.”
Cotton spoke to Trump on Wednesday about nominating Scalia for the job and suggested the president bring in the lawyer for a private meeting. The White House had started considering Scalia for the job as the scrutiny over Acosta’s plea deal began to intensify last week, according to another person familiar with the deliberations, as the administration searched for a fallback option for Acosta should he leave his post.
Trump and Scalia, accompanied by Cotton, Mulvaney and other senior White House staff, met privately at the White House on Thursday afternoon, when the offer was made and Scalia accepted the nomination.
The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal White House deliberations.
The procedure by which Scalia had been installed to his Labor job also drew controversy more than a decade ago. President George W. Bush used a recess appointment in January 2002 to tap Scalia — who faced opposition from labor unions — for the solicitor post to circumvent the Senate, then controlled by Democrats. Bush then extended his tenure by designating him as acting solicitor, which kept him in the job until Republicans took control of the Senate and could more easily confirm Bush’s picks.
Democrats signaled that once again, Scalia would face resistance from the left.
“Workers and union members who beloved candidate Trump when he campaigned as pro-worker should feel betrayed,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) of Scalia’s expected nomination.