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Donald Trump’s pick for labor secretary is withdrawing

Andrew Puzder (Joe Kohen/Getty)

Andrew Puzder is out. On Wednesday, Donald Trump’s pick for labor secretary announced that he would be withdrawing his name from consideration, according to the Associated Press.

The withdrawal comes amid reports that several Republican senators were refusing to support Puzder, and it makes him the first Cabinet nominee in Donald Trump’s administration to go down in flames.

Republicans revolted against Puzder, CEO of the fast-food conglomerate CKE Holdings, amid two particularly high-profile scandals — a revelation that he’d hired an undocumented immigrant and failed to pay employer taxes, and an ugly divorce in which his ex-wife accused him of assaulting her. (The ex-wife, Lisa Fierstein, retracted the charges in a letter on February 7 to the Senate committee charged with vetting his candidacy.)

It’s unclear which controversy sunk Puzder or whether it was the combined impact of both that ultimately did him in. The Washington Examiner’s David Drucker reported that Puzder’s personal life “spooked” Republican senators, even if they didn’t consider the attacks reasonable. Other members of the Republican caucus have privately admitted their reluctance to defend Puzder’s decision to hire an undocumented maid and then neglect to pay employer taxes, according to the Weekly Standard.

Puzder already came to the confirmation process facing defections from Senate Republicans for embracing pro-immigrant position in the past, with Breitbart accusing him of preferring foreign-born workers to Americans. (“The fact is that there are jobs in this country that U.S. citizens, for whatever reason, are reluctant or unwilling to perform,” Puzder said in a 2013 Politico op-ed.) Add up those three factors, CNN’s Manu Raju said, and it was “all too much to overcome” for Senate Republicans.

A committee hearing could have been embarrassing for Senate Republicans

If the White House had tried pushing through with Puzder’s nomination, Senate Republicans would have had to defend his record from attacks by the Democratic caucus during committee hearings and a Senate floor debate.

Senate Democrats had plenty of ammo in their arsenal. In addition to the undocumented housekeeper (a fact that alone has sunk other Cabinet nominees) and a record of labor law violations, Puzder has also been portrayed as having a troubling and regressive attitude toward women.

Among the most vivid examples is Puzder’s embrace of infamous graphic advertisements for Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. The ads — now off the air — showed barely dressed supermodels gorging on massive burgers, and led to boycotts against Carl’s Jr. and protests. (They also did work to bolster the company’s bottom line, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.)

“We believe in putting hot models in our commercials, because ugly ones don’t sell burgers,” Puzder said in a 2011 press release, according to Fortune. “We target hungry guys, and we get young kids that want to be young hungry guys.” As late as 2015, Puzder said: "I like our ads. I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it's very American."

Democratic senators have also criticized Puzder for failing to “uphold women’s rights and safety in the workplace.” Indeed, about 60 percent of women at CKE Restaurants reported “experiencing unwanted sexual behaviors at work” — compared with 40 percent of the women in the fast-food industry overall, according to a study by the workers rights group ROC United.

"He was very rude. … If you were a white, blond cashier, you were doing a great job,” one woman told Fast Company. “If you were an overweight person, it was highly recommended that we try to get rid of you."

In a speech on Wednesday, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said Democrats planned to highlight Puzder’s history at his first committee hearing, scheduled for Thursday after being initially postponed six separate times. By killing his nomination, Republicans will swallow the embarrassment of backpedaling on a Cabinet nominee but also avoid that ugly spectacle.

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