Defending Obama’s Legacy, Senate Democrats Grill Trump’s Labor Nominee

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Ted Goodman Contributor
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Senate Democrats grilled President Donald Trump’s nominee to run the Department of Labor, R. Alexander Acosta, during his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

Overshadowed by Judge Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court, Russia-related investigations and a dramatic health care vote set to take place Thursday, Democrats hammered Acosta about former President Obama’s labor legacy and Acosta’s presumed plans to dismantle it.

Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio introduced Acosta, calling him a “brilliant legal mind,” and, someone with “deep knowledge of labor issues.” Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz also praised Acosta during his introduction to the committee. All three men, both the senators and the nominee, are Cuban-American.

Acosta was asked pointed questions regarding Obama’s labor policies, policies which remain in limbo. Acosta refrained from offering specific opinions, often deferring to the president.

Democrats asked Acosta to comment on the president’s budget proposal, which calls for a 21 percent cut to the Labor Department. Acosta refused to bite, claiming that he isn’t in a position to provide input on the budget process.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren questioned Acosta on Obama’s proposed fiduciary rule, a protective measure that compels financial advisors to make investment recommendations that are in the “best” interest of their client, as opposed to the most “suitable.”

The proposed rule, set to go into effect April 10, was delayed by President Trump Feb. 3, in order to be reexamined for revision or possible revision. Opponents of the rule argue that implementation would lead to reduced access to retirement advice, increased litigation and other adverse effects for the industry and retirees.

Acosta would not give Warren his own opinion on the rule, instead, insisting that he would follow the president’s directive to review the rule.

The nominee’s time at the Department of Justice under former President George W. Bush, particularly where it concerns an employee serving under Acosta in the Civil Rights Division, was discovered to have hired attorneys based on political ideology. The issues were examined by Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray.

Murray accused Acosta of ignoring, even possibly facilitating, an “extraordinary politicization” of the division. Acosta took full responsibility for the conduct of the employee, reminding the senator that it was an isolated incident. “It happened under my watch,” Acosta stated, adding, “I deeply regret it.”

Formerly a candidate for vice president during the 2016 elections, Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine asked Acosta about the non-prosecution deal he made with billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who pleaded guilty for soliciting prostitution in the state of Florida and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

“Based on the evidence, professionals within the prosecutor’s office decide that a plea that guarantees that someone goes to jail, that guarantees that someone register generally, and that guarantees other outcomes, is a good thing,” Acosta said, while refusing to discuss specifics of the case.

Formerly a U.S. attorney who served on the National Labor Relations Board, as well as the dean of the Florida International University School of Law, Acosta would be the first Hispanic American to serve in Trump’s cabinet.

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