Andrew Puzder’s nomination for labor secretary took another hit on Monday night when the fast-food CEO disclosed that his family hired an undocumented immigrant as a maid and initially failed to pay taxes related to her employment.
“My wife and I employed a housekeeper for a few years, during which I was unaware that she was not legally permitted to work in the U.S.,” Puzder said in a written statement sent through a spokesman. “When I learned of her status, we immediately ended her employment and offered her assistance in getting legal status. We have fully paid back taxes to the IRS and the state of California.”
Puzder, who runs the parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, reported the issue to the Trump administration as part of the vetting process for his nomination. It’s only the latest hurdle he’ll have to overcome to win confirmation, as his nomination has stalled in the Senate while he negotiates with government ethics lawyers over how to divest from his businesses to avoid conflicts of interest in office. The Republican chairman of the committee overseeing his nomination, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, has delayed Puzder’s hearing four times and won’t reschedule it until he submits a completed questionnaire and signed ethics agreement. Democrats were already planning all-out opposition to Puzder over his criticism of minimum-wage increases, labor-law violations at his restaurants, and the Carl’s Jr. television ads featuring scantily-clad models, which he has defended.
Revelations that a Cabinet nominee has employed immigrants illegally has killed Senate confirmation hopes in the past—most famously in 1993, when President Bill Clinton’s first two picks for attorney general, Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood, both withdrew over the issue. And given the Trump administration’s hard-line stance against illegal immigration, Puzder’s disclosure could be significantly damaging.
On the other hand, there are indications that the standards in the Senate are changing—in part due to a rules change engineered by Democrats that now allows Republicans to confirm nominees on straight party-line votes without the threat of a filibuster. As a result, Republicans have been able to wave away controversies that might have torpedoed nominees that required bipartisan support to be confirmed. For example, Trump’s nominee for budget director, Representative Mick Mulvaney, disclosed that he, too, had failed to pay taxes on a household employee. But the issue didn’t draw much scrutiny at his confirmation hearing, and he is expected to win confirmation later this month.
The White House declined to comment on Tuesday morning beyond the statement that Puzder released. And Alexander, who has praised Puzder’s nomination, indicated it was unlikely to cost him his support. “Based upon what I’ve learned,” Alexander said in a statement, “since Mr. Puzder reported his mistake and voluntarily corrected it, I do not believe that this should disqualify him from being a Cabinet secretary.”
The Huffington Post first reported Puzder’s disclosure on Monday night.