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September 24, 2019 3:00 PM, EDT

Senate Committee Advances Labor Nominee Scalia to Chamber Floor

Secretary of Labor nominee Eugene Scalia Secretary of Labor nominee Eugene Scalia speaks during his nomination hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Sept. 19, 2019. (Associated Press/Cliff Owen)

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Eugene Scalia’s nomination to become the next Secretary of Labor in the Trump administration was advanced by a U.S. Senate committee Sept. 24.

The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions panel reported the nominee on a party-line vote, setting up a potentially contentious vote on the floor of the chamber.

Republican leaders who manage the Senate’s schedule have yet to decide a time to vote on the nominee.

Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) applauded Scalia’s qualifications, insisting he is “well-qualified to lead the department.”

Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)

Alexander

“He’s currently the partner in a law firm in Washington, D.C. He spent the majority of his career working on labor employment and regulatory matters,” Alexander said. “Businesses and workers need a Secretary of Labor who will steer the department with a steady hand, and I believe Mr. Scalia can do so.”

The chairman also noted that several groups had contacted the committee to express their support for the nominee. On Sept. 9, former Labor officials wrote the panel’s leadership to praise Scalia’s background.

Scalia is a partner at the firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, and in 2001 was the Labor Department’s Solicitor of Labor.

“Gene would bring to the position of Secretary of Labor an in-depth knowledge of the Department of Labor (DOL) and all of the laws DOL is charged with administering and enforcing. These include the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, the Mine Safety and Health Act, and the Black Lung Benefits Act, among many others,” the former officials wrote. “Gene would bring a powerful intellect to the position of Secretary of Labor. As Solicitor of Labor, he analyzed complicated legal issues on a daily basis. He was always willing to listen.”

Democrats, however, have continued to criticize Scalia’s career. For instance, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the panel’s ranking member, called the nominee an elite corporate lawyer “who has spent his career fighting for corporations and against workers.”

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the panel’s ranking member

Murray

“Instead of nominating someone who understands the challenges working people face and will fight for them, President [Donald] Trump has chosen a powerful corporate lawyer who has devoted his career to protecting big corporations and CEOs from accountability, and attacking workers’ rights, protections and economic security,” Murray said during a hearing with the nominee on Sept. 19.

She added, “People are getting more and more tired of President Trump’s anti-worker agenda. And the last thing they want to see from this administration is one more person using their power to look out for those at the very top and nobody else.”

At that hearing, Democrats also questioned Scalia’s writings on LGBTQ concerns regarding discrimination. Scalia responded that his views had matured.

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While before the committee, Scalia shared with senators a mission statement for the department.

As he put it, the department is tasked with “enforcing the worker protections enacted by Congress, offering programs that help prepare Americans for a lifetime of productive work while also helping supply the skilled workforce needed by American businesses, and providing support to workers who’ve fallen on hard times whether through loss of work, loss of retirement benefits, or work-related illness or injury.”

The son of the late Justice of the Supreme Court Antonin Scalia, he would succeed Alexander Acosta if confirmed by the Senate. Acosta resigned in the summer amid growing scrutiny of his handling of a 2008 plea deal for the late financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was found dead last month in his cell at a federal jail in Manhattan after a July arrest on sex trafficking charges.

Scalia earned degrees from the University of Virginia and the University of Chicago Law School.