WASHINGTON — With the debt crisis averted and summer recess approaching, the debate over whether to confirm President Joe Biden’s pick for labor secretary, Julie Su, is intensifying on Capitol Hill.
Biden nominated Su, the deputy labor secretary, a little over three months ago. And she has been leading the department since former Labor Secretary Marty Walsh left the role in March. Yet, her nomination has not come to the Senate floor for a vote, leaving the position that oversees jobs and employment in limbo.
Moderate Democrats and independent senators are still weighing whether to support Su, who was labor secretary of California when Biden tapped her to work with Walsh. She would be the first Asian American to hold a Cabinet secretary position in the Biden administration if she is confirmed.
“We don’t have enough votes yet, and I don’t know the basis of the hold-up from some of my colleagues,” Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said Tuesday evening.
State of play in the Senate
- The focus shifted to Su’s nomination following a vote last week to increase the nation’s debt limit.
- Su’s backers are hopeful the Senate will move on her nomination before lawmakers take an extended leave of absence that begins at the end of July and lasts until September.
- The Senate previously confirmed Su to deputy labor secretary 50-47 in a party line vote.
- But now, several moderate Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, several of whom hold seats that are up for reelection in 2024, are balking at voting for Su.
- Senators on the fence include: Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Mark Kelly of Arizona and Jon Tester of Montana. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an independent from Arizona, is also undecided.
- Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is viewed as a potential swing voter, even though she voted against Su in April at the committee level.
GOP senators who voted against Su’s nomination in April argued that she had not built sufficient relationships with the business community as California’s labor secretary and took issue with her treatment of independent contractors. They also levied criticisms over the amount of fraud in California’s unemployment program during the pandemic.
Her nomination passed out of committee with no Republican votes and has sat idle since, despite amped up support in recent weeks from the White House and union heads.
Labor groups sent senators a letter on Monday that outlined Su’s qualifications and noted she is the daughter of Chinese immigrants.
“I think she’s demonstrated what is needed to be the next secretary of labor,” American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, one of the letter signers, told USA TODAY.
Su has been sitting down with senators, seeking to earn their support.
Association of Flight Attendants-CWA president Sara Nelson, another labor leader who signed the letter, said part of the effort had been “getting people comfortable” with the Biden administration official.
“There are a lot of people who didn’t know her,” Nelson said.
Senators say they’re still deciding
The efforts have had no measurable impact.
- Manchin told USA TODAY “no decision” had been made on Tuesday.
- “I’m not going to talk to you about that at all,” Sinema said.
- Kelly said he’s still having discussions about Su, who he said he met with roughly a month ago. “I had a good conversation with her,” he said, “but there are still folks that are reaching out to me about her.”
- Murkowski dodged questions about how she intends to vote, saying it seems to her that Su’s nomination has been “stalled out for quite awhile.”
Biden still has “confidence” in Su’s nomination
Su will testify on Wednesday in front of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce about the Department of Labor’s priorities .
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a Monday press briefing that Biden has “confidence that she will get through” the Senate and emphasized that Su has the support of the administration.
“This is a full-court press to get Julie confirmed. Outside groups continue to — to also push her forward. And certainly she will get the support from the White House as well and from this president,” Jean-Pierre said.