The fast-food exec faced numerous scandals, including a video of his ex-wife accusing him of abuse on Oprah in 1990.
By BURGESS EVERETT, TARA PALMERI and MARIANNE LEVINE
Washington, DC – Andrew Puzder is expected to withdraw his nomination to be secretary of labor after Senate Republicans informed the White House that he lacks the votes to be confirmed, sources familiar with the matter said Wednesday.
GOP senators advised the White House that Puzder could not pass through the narrowly divided Senate on Wednesday, and shortly thereafter a White House source confirmed his intention to pull out.
Puzder becomes the first Trump Cabinet nominee to withdraw. He could lose only two GOP votes in order to be approved, and multiple Republicans have expressed reservations about him.
“I’ve expressed my concerns about a number of issues,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), one of the senators who is undecided.
Though a withdrawal is a major blow to the Trump administration, the alternative would have been worse. Taking Puzder’s nomination to the Senate floor and seeing it fail would have been a major embarrassment for both President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has repeatedly backed Puzder publicaly. Puzder is also a favorite of White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
Agriculture Department hopeful Sonny Perdue has grown nervous about his own prospects in light of Puzder’s troubles — unable to get access to Priebus for reassurances that the former Georgia governor’s nomination is still backed by the administration, according to a source familiar with the matter.
McConnell has focused the early part of the year on pushing through Trump’s Cabinet picks. Though Senate Democrats have resisted, all of Trump’s nominees have gotten through the narrowly divided chamber until now. Vincent Viola, Trump’s pick for Army secretary, withdrew earlier this month after he found it too difficult to disentangle himself from his business ventures, but he bowed out before the full Senate considered his nomination.
But Puzder is different.
The number of issues plaguing the fast-food executive could fill an opposition research book: His ex-wife accused him of abuse on Oprah in 1990, he was tutored by a mob lawyer and recently admitted to failing to pay taxes on an undocumented immigrant. He also drew criticism for his companies’ risque advertisements and labor practicies.
This week Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee members began viewing the Oprah tape, with top Democrat Patty Murray of Washington state saying that she was left “deeply troubled” by the video. A copy of the video was obtained by POLITICO and published late Tuesday night.
“He’s done,” said a person close to Puzder.
Other Republicans on the HELP Committee wavered on his nomination included Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Tim Scott of South Carolina and Johnny Isakson of Georgia. None would say on Wednesday they outwardly oppose him. The preference among senators was to avoid having to vote down his nomination by having Trump yank it.
Puzder’s confirmation hearing was scheduled for Thursday after being delayed four times due to a multitude of problems with his background checks and ethics arrangement. One Senate Republican said it would make no sense for Puzder to wait until after his hearing to withdraw.
The hearing was still on as of Wednesday afternoon, sources said. And Senate Republican leaders said that his nomination was still moving forward.
“Nothing’s changed,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), the party’s chief-vote counter.
But privately, Republicans said there were widespread concerns about having to vote for Puzder after shepherding several controversial nominees across the finish line. Most notably, Vice President Mike Pence had to break a tie to confirm Education Secretary Betsy DeVos last week.
CNN first reported that Republicans lack the votes to confirm Puzder.