Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su vows to remain in job even as confirmation prospects remain dim — “The Takeout”

Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su is still waiting to be confirmed as labor secretary over a year after President Joe Biden first nominated her, and she remains hopeful that she’ll be confirmed, despite opposition that shows no sign of softening.

On “The Takeout” podcast this week, Su told chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett she has no plans to withdraw and remains “really honored by his support.”

“When I went through the nomination, the confirmation process, I met with a lot of senators and … I have great respect for the process, for their role.” She added, “We’ll continue to remain hopeful while also remaining focused on the job that needs to be done.”

“I’m going to do this job for as long as the president wants me to do it and as long as the American people need somebody who’s going to fight for working people,” Su said. 

Su, who was previously deputy labor secretary, was tapped for the top job after Secretary Marty Walsh stepped down to head the NHL Player Association. Her nomination was advanced by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee but was unable to muster the votes to pass the full Senate, so she remained acting secretary. In 2022, Su was confirmed as deputy labor secretary in a close vote.

Senate Republicans and West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin say they’ll continue to oppose her nomination for a couple of reasons, but the most prominent one is that when she was California’s labor commissioner, she oversaw the payment of $31 billion in fraudulent unemployment claims during the pandemic.

Su said Covid exposed flaws within California’s unemployment insurance system.

“The U.I. (unemployment insurance) system was like a house with a leaky roof,” Su said. “In good times, you could put a couple buckets under it and mostly ignore it. But in a storm…all of its weaknesses get revealed.”

Other opponents of Su’s nomination, particularly business groups, have pointed to her embrace of California legislation that limited independent contracting and extended certain protections to gig workers — including minimum wage, overtime, and healthcare. 

“I do not apologize for making sure that employees who deserve protections and the right to organize [are] covered under employee status,” Su told Garrett. 

But Su’s advocates counter that she has helped resolve sticky labor issues, including averting an economically debilitating freight rail strike in 2022 and negotiating a major deal between West Coast dockworkers and shippers this past June.

“It has been a privilege to see the kinds of win-win solutions that can come through collective bargaining,” said Su.

Though there’s been no sign that any of those opposing her have changed their minds, she told chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett that she remains hopeful she’ll be confirmed and appreciates the support she’s received from “a lot” of senators. 

Asked by Garrett if she’s made any headway with Manchin, Su said that she said “hi” to him at the State of the Union address last week, but that was about all she had time for. The West Virginia senator, who is retiring at the end of his term early next year, said last summer that he would still vote against Su.

“I think the American people need a strong labor secretary, and I plan on continuing to do that for as long as I can,” Su said.

In her interview with “The Takeout,” Su also touted the job numbers during the Biden administration, pointing to the 14.9 million jobs created since Mr. Biden took office, as well as an unemployment rate of under 4% for the past two years. Economic analysts predictions of an impending recession during the last couple of years have not come to pass, and Su credits the Biden administration for this.

“I think we are now, you know, safely in a place of saying that the economic policies worked,” Su told Garrett.

Executive producer: Arden Farhi

Producers: Jamie Benson, Jacob Rosen, Sara Cook and Eleanor Watson

CBSN Production: Eric Soussanin 
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