by Michael Tomasky · February 15, 2017
This Trump era is going to be a learning experience about what kinds of things do and do not constitute red lines for Republicans. And as Andy Puzder withdraws his name from nomination for Labor secretary, we learn that it’s perfectly alright to repeatedly stiff your low-wage workers, and that it’s 100 percent American to veritably poison your customers with mountains of fat and sodium and sugar.
But you still can’t hire an undocumented worker to clean your house, and you can’t endure an old allegation from your wife that you physically abused her, especially if she made the claim to Oprah.
Which weighed more in Republicans’ minds is an interesting question that we’ll start learning answers to over the course of the week. Just Tuesday, Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate committee that was going to hold Puzder’s hearing Thursday, was limning Puzder’s greatness on Twitter, quoting a Wall Street Journal op-ed that deemed him as “the right man for the labor job after eight slow-growth years.” This was well after the nanny situation became public.
But then, Wednesday morning, Politico’s Marianne Levine and Timothy Noah got hold of the Oprah tape, which had previously been reported on but not actually seen and described. In it, Puzder’s ex-wife, Lisa Fierstein, appeared on Oprah’s show in 1990, in disguise and using a fake name to allege that her husband had abused her and further that he’d threatened to make her life hell if she said any of this. Fierstein has said many times since that she made the allegation to gain leverage in their child-custody battle (they divorced in 1987).
But when the stories landed describing her disguised behind large sunglasses and a wig and using an assumed name to allege her ex-husband’s ugly acts, Puzder’s support cratered. At least four Republicans were now against him, and that was enough.
What if it’s not true? Who knows in these situations, but entertain the possibility that Fierstein did in fact make false allegations to gain leverage. What a horrifying thing to have said about you. And to have it come back 30 years later is more horrifying still.
But that’s what sinks nominations. Just the fact that an old allegation exists.
Don’t get me wrong, my sympathy for the guy is extremely limited. Labor Department investigators—in other words, investigators for the very department he was going to oversee!—have found in many cases that employees of Puzder’s burger joints were told, for example, to clock out and go sit in their car when business was slow; or to pay 10 cents an hour for the privilege of wearing a Hardee’s uniform. Those are the actual reasons the guy should never sit at Frances Perkins’s desk (wonder if he even knew who she was two months ago).
But Washington morality is a weird thing. After all, there’s another guy around town whose ex-wife once said he abused her. In fact, she said he raped her. She took it back, too, and that guy is the president.
So the Democrats got a scalp. Which is good. But they didn’t get it the way they wanted to get a scalp, which is through arguing that so-and-so is too extreme and right-wing to be such-and-such secretary and galvanizing public opinion to such an extent that even three Republican senators felt pressured to break ranks. That is still unlikely to happen.
And of course, Trump will now replace Puzder, and he’ll do so with somebody just as anti-worker or maybe more. One name floating around is Peter Kirsanow. He’s really conservative. He’s a management-side lawyer. He’s black. He sports a handlebar moustache. You can read a more substantive critique of his record here if you wish, but suffice it to say that he always finds a way to align with management. He also has been writing for The National Review for several years, so he’s left a trail of opinions behind for Democratic staff to scour should he be the choice.
Trump doesn’t care who the labor secretary is. Some person or persons at the Heritage Foundation or the Competitive Enterprise Institute or one of those places is going to give Priebus and Bannon a list of deplorables and Trump will say, if it makes the right happy, fine. I’m busy making Russia great again.
So, goodbye, Andrew Puzder. As my friend Nick Hanauer (whom I wrote about the other day) tweeted on Wednesday afternoon: “Looks like Andy Puzder is going back to what he loves—exploiting his workers and giving his customers diabetes and heart disease.” It would be great if we could count this as a victory for the working men and women of America, but that battle was lost when millions of the working men and women of America fell for Trump’s lies and threats and promises.