Biden’s Pick for Labor Secretary Faces Skeptical Senate

Happy Friday! According to tradition, it was on this day in 753 B.C. that Romulus and Remus founded Rome. But remember: it wasn’t built in a day.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • A letter sent to Congress Tuesday reportedly claims an Internal Revenue Service criminal supervisory agent is seeking whistleblower protections for information suggesting the Biden administration is mishandling the criminal investigation of Hunter Biden. The president’s son is under investigation over taxes and allegations he made a false statement about a gun purchase—and the Washington Post reported Thursday investigators have concluded they have enough evidence to indict.
  • The Defense Department said Thursday it will deploy “additional capabilities” near Sudan—reportedly in Djibouti—to prepare for a potential evacuation of roughly 70 U.S. Embassy employees in the country, where two generals are vying for control. As of Thursday afternoon, a State Department spokesperson said all embassy personnel were accounted for and unharmed.
  • India’s population is set to surpass that of China later this year, according to United Nations projections released Wednesday, which will make it the world’s most populous country.
  • Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction John Sopko, an Obama appointee, told the House Oversight Committee Wednesday that the Taliban may have siphoned away some of the more than $8 billion in U.S. aid sent to help the Afghan people since the 2021 U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. He accused the State Department, Pentagon, and USAID of stonewalling his oversight efforts—though inspectors general directly overseeing all three agencies said they’ve had sufficient access to information. USAID spokeswoman Jessica Jennings said the agency has responded to “hundreds of questions” from Sopko’s office, while the State Department noted reconstruction activities—Sopko’s primary jurisdiction—ceased after the withdrawal.
  • A senior United Nations official said this week that the international organization will hold a meeting to consider recognizing the Taliban government in Afghanistan. In remarks at Princeton University’s  School of Public and International Affairs on Monday, Deputy UN Secretary General Amina Mohammad expressed hope that the meeting, which will include UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, will include “baby steps to put us back on the pathway to recognition.”
  • Florida’s Board of Education on Wednesday approved an expansion of the state’s “Parental Rights in Education” law—after a procedural notice period, limits on public school instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity will now apply to grades K-12, not just through third grade. (The rule includes an exception for reproductive health classes.) . On Thursday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill lowering the necessary threshold for a death penalty sentence—after a defendant is unanimously found guilty—to an 8-4 jury vote, the lowest such threshold in the country. “Once a defendant in a capital case is found guilty by a unanimous jury, one juror should not be able to veto a capital sentence,” DeSantis said, referencing the 9-3 jury vote last fall that spared the Parkland mass shooter a death sentence.
  • The National Association of Realtors reported Tuesday the median existing-home sales price in the U.S. was $375,700 in March—down 0.9 percent year-over-year, the largest annual price drop since January 2012. Sales of previously-owned homes decreased 2.4 percent from February and were down 22 percent year-over-year.
  • The Department of Labor reported Thursday that initial jobless claims—a proxy for layoffs—rose by 5,000 week-over-week to a seasonally-adjusted 245,000 claims last week, potentially a sign the economy is starting to cool as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates to tamp down demand and reduce inflation.

Sour on Su

Deputy Labor Secretary Julie Su testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee during her confirmation hearing to be the next secretary of the Labor Department on April 20, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images.)
Deputy Labor Secretary Julie Su testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee during her confirmation hearing to be the next secretary of the Labor Department on April 20, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images.)

In what other context besides a Senate confirmation hearing would a job candidate bring their kids to sit behind them while the hiring panel impugns their honor and work history for a few hours? Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su endured her grueling bring-your-daughter-to-work day Thursday, answering lawmakers’ questions in hopes of winning enough votes to drop the “acting” from her title. 

It may not be enough to get her the job. Republicans in yesterday’s Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee meeting knocked Su’s union-friendly history, as well as her tenure as California’s labor secretary—which included billions in COVID-19 aid fraud on her watch and controversial employment law changes for gig workers. Democrats pushed back during the hearing, but a handful have raised similar concerns—and in a 51-49 Senate, a few defections could easily sink Su’s nomination.

When previous Labor Secretary Marty Walsh left for icier pastures in March, Su—his deputy—stepped into his role on an acting basis. An attorney who won widespread praise for representing 72 trafficked Thai garment workers enduring forced labor in the U.S., she co-founded Sweatshop Watch in the mid-90s to improve conditions for garment workers. Before being confirmed as Walsh’s deputy in 2021, she was California labor commissioner from 2011 to 2018 and served as secretary of the state’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency beginning in 2019. Announcing his intent to nominate Su several weeks ago, President Joe Biden described her resume in glowing terms: “Over several decades, Julie has led the largest state labor department in the nation, cracked down on wage theft, fought to protect trafficked workers, increased the minimum wage, created good-paying, high-quality jobs, and established and enforced workplace safety standards.”

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