Labor pick Puzder says he employed undocumented immigrant

Register now

(Bloomberg) – President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Labor Department, fast-food restaurant executive Andy Puzder, said he employed an undocumented immigrant as a housekeeper until learning of the worker’s immigration status -- the second Trump nominee to make such a disclosure.

Immigration issues with household employees have forced other presidents’ nominees to drop out of consideration, but neither Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants Inc., the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., nor the chairman of the committee considering his nomination see it derailing the process. A White House official said Puzder conveyed on Tuesday that he remains committed to moving ahead with his nomination.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has delayed Puzder’s confirmation hearing several times as it waits for the billionaire nominee to file necessary paperwork with the Office of Government Ethics. The hearing was most recently rescheduled for Tuesday and was delayed indefinitely.

The immigration disclosure, first reported by the Huffington Post on Monday, is just the latest twist. “My wife and I employed a housekeeper for a few years, during which I was unaware that she was not legally permitted to work in the U.S.," Puzder said in a statement released late Monday. “When I learned of her status, we immediately ended her employment and offered her assistance in getting legal status. We have fully paid back taxes to the IRS and the State of California and submitted all required paperwork regarding her employment.”

Not Disqualifying

Senator Lamar Alexander, the committee’s chairman, doesn’t see the issue as a deal-breaker for Puzder. “Based upon what I’ve learned, since Mr. Puzder reported his mistake and voluntarily corrected it, I do not believe that this should disqualify him from being a cabinet secretary," Alexander said in a statement.

Such immigration issues have scuttled previous cabinet nominations. Linda Chavez, George W. Bush’s first nominee for labor secretary, dropped out of consideration after it was reported that she had let an undocumented immigrant live in her home and given her money for doing household chores. Bill Clinton’s first pick for attorney general, Zoe Baird, was forced to withdraw after revelations that she had employed undocumented immigrants and had not paid taxes on their salaries eroded support in the Senate’s Democratic majority.

Another Trump nominee, Wilbur Ross, disclosed last month that he had been misled by an employee who was unable to provide documentation after Trump nominated him to serve as commerce secretary. Ross’s nomination has advanced out of committee but has not yet faced a full Senate vote.

Meanwhile, Trump’s nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget, Representative Mick Mulvaney, acknowledged he failed to pay federal payroll taxes for a nanny who worked 40-hour weeks to help him and his wife care for their triplets. Mulvaney said he would pay any penalties and any existing late fees.

Alexander isn’t the only Republican who doesn’t see the labor issue hurting Puzder. “If he was not aware of it, it’s a thing that happens too much but I don’t think it’s a game-changer for me,” Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas said Tuesday.

Maine Senator Susan Collins, one of two Republicans who on Tuesday voted against Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education nominee, said she was withholding judgment until she hears his explanation during hearings.

Democrats on Capitol Hill seemed resigned Tuesday that Puzder, like Ross and Mulvaney, would face few consequences for an infraction that in the past would have been fatal.

“What disqualified Democratic nominees apparently is not a problem for many Republican nominees. They seem to be bullet-proof when it comes to ethical issues,” Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said.

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California said that while the housekeeper issue is “unfortunate because it’s very sensitive,” she has bigger concerns with Puzder. “This is labor secretary and I know him, and I think this is a very hard position for him to be in because you have to advocate for labor and you have to see that labor laws are fair.”

Puzder’s nomination has drawn intense backlash from unions and other labor groups that object to his company’s treatment of workers.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.