Andy Puzder has been chief executive of CKE Inc., which owns the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s chains, since 2000. He was President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of the Department of Labor until Wednesday, when he stepped aside. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

Puzder withdraws as labor secretary nominee amid GOP opposition

Puzder withdraws as labor secretary nominee amid GOP opposition

By Jim Puzzanghera and Lisa Mascaro

Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The troubled nomination of fast-food executive Andy Puzder to become President Donald Trump’s labor secretary collapsed Wednesday amid growing Republican opposition.

Puzder, chief executive of Carpinteria, Calif.-based CKE Restaurants Inc., the parent company of the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s chains, abruptly withdrew his nomination just a day before he was to face his Senate confirmation hearing.

“After careful consideration and discussions with my family, I am withdrawing my nomination for secretary of Labor,” Puzder said in a statement emailed by his spokesman. “I am honored to have been considered by President Donald Trump to lead the Department of Labor and put America’s workers and businesses back on a path to sustainable prosperity.

“While I won’t be serving in the administration, I fully support the president and his highly qualified team,” Puzder said.

The collapse of Puzder’s nomination comes during one of the toughest periods of Trump’s young presidency. After seeing his controversial travel ban blocked by federal courts, Trump lost one of his early key supporters with the forced resignation Monday night of national security adviser Michael Flynn over Flynn’s false statements about his December contacts with a Russian diplomat.

The loss of GOP support for Puzder was also a sign that Republicans on Capitol Hill — who had previously been reluctant to confront Trump over policy or Cabinet appointments — are feeling emboldened to stand up to the new president. Education Secretary Besty DeVos was confirmed last week thanks only to a tiebreaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence after two Republicans voted against her.

White House officials appear to have concluded that it was not worth their political capital to fight for Puzder’s nomination, which had been dogged by several controversies, including his admission that he employed a housekeeper who was in the country illegally and decades-old allegations of spousal abuse from his ex-wife.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and other Republicans expressed concern over a 1990 episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in which Puzder’s ex-wife, Lisa Fierstein, made allegations of abuse.

Last month Fierstein wrote to the leaders of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee saying she had withdrawn those accusations. She called Puzder a “a good, loving, kind man.”

Democrats targeted controversial comments Puzder has made in recent years opposing an increase in the minimum wage to $15 and musing about deploying increased automation to his restaurants.

Democrats also highlighted labor law violations at CKE Restaurants. Fast-food workers have staged protests against Puzder’s nomination in Los Angeles and elsewhere.

On Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., urged Puzder to withdraw, calling him “probably the most anti-worker” choice ever for the Cabinet position.