‘Didn’t Have A Clear Answer’: Key Biden Nominee’s Confirmation Remains In Doubt After Testy Hearing

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Michael Ginsberg Congressional Correspondent
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Deputy Labor Secretary Julie Su’s confirmation to lead the Department of Labor remains in doubt following a Thursday hearing in which she frustrated a key Republican senator.

President Joe Biden nominated Su in February after former Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh resigned to lead the National Hockey League Players’ Association. Su was confirmed to her current position along party lines in 2021, after serving as California labor secretary from 2019 to 2021.

Business groups and independent contractors have expressed opposition to her nomination, while labor unions have offered full-throated support. With California Sen. Dianne Feinstein away from the Capitol indefinitely due to shingles, Democrats cannot afford to lose any votes.

During the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing, Republican Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski asked Su about the Labor Department’s implementation of a CARES Act program that granted money to states to help them improve their unemployment insurance programs. According to Murkowski, modernization funding that should have gone to Alaska went to the Department’s “Tiger team projects” instead.

“We don’t know exactly what that is, but we do know that states like Alaska, who are desperately in need of these modernization and updates, didn’t receive it. So the question to you is why DOL did not use the funding, and whether or not you recognize that this has to be a priority for us?” Murkowski asked.

“I don’t know the answer about Alaska,” Su admitted. “I will tell you that one of the things I’ve been working on over the last two years is that making sure the $2 billion or so in American Rescue Plan that was meant for states is going out to states.”

Murkowski said after the hearing that she was “factoring in” Su’s answer. Murkowski did not vote to confirm Su as deputy labor secretary, but has voted to confirm several key Biden cabinet nominees.

WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 9: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) speaks to reporters after she attended a closed-door briefing for Senators about the Chinese spy balloon at the U.S. Capitol February 9, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“She didn’t have a clear answer for me. Basically, I want to find out why my state, which clearly needed modernization, I don’t know exactly how much came out of the CARES money. But it was specific to that, it was specifically directed to the states, and so she’s told me she’s going to get the information back to me. But things like that are kind of important,” Murkowski told the Daily Caller.

Other Republicans pressed Su on the more than $31 billion in fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program claims California’s Department of Labor paid out. At the time, Su admitted that the state did not maintain “sufficient security measures in place to prevent this level of fraud.” Fraudsters stole much as $80 billion in Paycheck Protection Program funds nationwide, NBC News reported in March 2022.

“$31 billion. That’s about as much as we provided in military aid to Ukraine. That’s almost twice the total budget of the Department of Labor. Under your leadership in California, $31 billion was fraudulently paid out, ” Republicans Utah Sen. Mitt Romney said. “Now there’s a principle in all sorts of enterprises known as the Peter Principle, which is people get promoted to a point where their competence has no longer been established. In this case, your record there is so severely lacking, I don’t know how in the world it makes sense for the president to nominate you to take over this department.”

Business groups and independent contractors oppose Su, noting her support for and implementation of AB5, a California law intended to classify independent contractors as employees. Under the legislation, contractors must pass a three-pronged test or be classified as employees. The law boosted the state’s rate of union participation, and drastically increased costs on small businesses. (RELATED: ‘We’re Road Kill’: Independent Contractor Advocates Sound Alarm Over Biden Labor Nominee’s ‘Anti-Business’ Record)

Republicans are gearing up for another party-line vote, HELP Committee ranking member Bill Cassidy of Louisiana told the Caller.

“I think we raised enough questions that would hopefully create doubts in some of those [Democrats] who are more fair-minded,” the GOP senator said.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who has opposed more Biden nominees than any other Democrat, has been noncommittal on whether or not he will support Su. He previously voted to confirm her as deputy secretary.

“No comment,” he told the Washington Post earlier Thursday when asked about Su.