Julie Su’s nomination to become Labor secretary is coming down to the wire as Democrats drag their feet on bringing her up for a final vote and admit her confirmation fight will be a close call.
Su, the acting Labor chief who served as former Labor Secretary Marty Walsh’s No. 2 at the department, is not expected to receive any GOP support. And she has yet to publicly win over any of the other key senators — Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) — who will determine her fate.
“It’s going to be close,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, told The Hill, though he added he remains optimistic she will get across the finish line.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) was expected to bring Su’s nomination to the floor last week, after the return of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), whose presence allows him to lose one vote.
But he has yet to file cloture on her nomination, and Manchin, Sinema and Tester have remained mum on whether they will side with her.
Despite some optimism, top Democrats did not sound confident she will win enough support. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chairman of the HELP Committee, notably demurred when asked whether he was optimistic about her chances.
“I’m not going to project,” Sanders told The Hill. “I hope she wins. She deserves to be secretary, and I hope she becomes secretary.”
Manchin is still considering her nomination, a spokesperson said. Sinema has a long-standing policy of not previewing her votes.
Tester told The Hill on Friday he is “still thinking” and doesn’t have “many more steps to go through” to make a decision.
Schumer declined to tell reporters whether he will schedule a vote on Su once the Senate returns from its Memorial Day recess.
President Biden nominated Su in February to replace Walsh, who was the first Cabinet secretary in the line of succession to leave his post since the start of the Biden administration. Su was confirmed as deputy Labor secretary in July 2021 with no GOP votes.
In their opposition, Republicans have pointed to her stance on independent contractors and the gig economy and her handling of California’s unemployment insurance program when the state paid out billions in fraudulent claims.
“I know there’s a ton of pressure being applied to a handful of Democrat senators by the White House and their allies. But she has really got issues,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, rolling through the laundry list of GOP concerns, including a recent report saying Su instructed her staff to “obstruct” Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials from entering state labor offices in California when they were searching for illegal immigrants.
“She’s got a lot of stuff,” he added.
Su’s nomination was particularly notable for the White House because she would be the first Asian American member of Biden’s Cabinet. Every other administration in the past 20 years has had an Asian American Cabinet secretary.
At this point, the White House still thinks Su can get enough votes to be confirmed and is working through a full-court press to get there.
Chief of staff Jeff Zients spent the past two weeks calling key senators on her nomination and coordinating with union leaders to channel support, according to a White House official. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm called moderate Democrats this week to make the case for Su, and Walsh also called senators, the official said.
“We remain optimistic about her confirmation as we work hard for every vote,” a White House official told The Hill.
But withdrawn nominations for the president are piling up. On Thursday, news broke that Biden is expected to withdraw his nomination of Michael Delaney to serve on the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.
Earlier this year, two other prominent nominees — Phillip Washington, Biden’s pick to lead the Federal Aviation Administration, and Gigi Sohn, Biden’s pick to serve as the top telecommunications regulator for the Federal Communications Commission — pulled their names from consideration.
Su received support from several labor unions quickly after Biden announced her nomination. They are sticking with her and are optimistic she can be confirmed.
“We’re still confident,” a Service Employees International Union spokesperson told The Hill.
The National Education Association, which held a fly-in recently for educators to meet with Senate offices and encourage them to vote for Su, is also still standing by her.
“Educators know Julie Su is a highly qualified nominee for Labor Secretary, having seen her in action as she partnered with Secretary Marty Walsh to deliver strong results for the American economy, including record job growth, bring small business and labor together to strengthen the middle class, and create Registered Apprenticeship programs to help address educator shortages in rural and urban communities alike,” a spokesperson said.
Kaine told The Hill one of the key voices in Su’s nomination remains Walsh, who earned bipartisan support and is highly thought of by some moderates. Manchin said he voted for Su as deputy secretary in 2021 in part because Walsh was in place atop the department.
Though they’re worried, Democrats are hoping Su ultimately breaks through and nabs support from at least two of the moderates.
“I don’t want to even get into Plan B,” Kaine said. “That would be a bad thing.”