Trump Labor pick questioned about past labors, positions
WASHINGTON — Eugene Scalia, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Labor, faced pointed questioning during his confirmation hearing on Thursday as Democrats criticized the former lobbyist’s record defending corporations in legal matters against workers and regulators.
But he was also put on the spot about his past claim that gay parents should be treated differently than a “traditional family” under law. Scalia worked to parry back many of the more pointed questions by Democrats during the hearing, but he declined to give specific answers about whether some of his views have changed.
Scalia, a lawyer and son of late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, is a partner at the Washington law firm Gibson Dunn, where he has represented companies such as Walmart, Ford, UPS and others in workers rights claims and matters. Democrats in the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee were quick to point out his track record.
“Instead of nominating someone who understands the challenges working people face and will fight for them, President Trump has chosen a powerful corporate lawyer who has devoted his career to protecting big corporations and CEOs from accountability and attacking workers rights protections and economic security,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the highest ranking Democrat on the committee, said in an opening statement.
Scalia remains popular among Republicans, though, and he is expected to be confirmed by the Senate, where the GOP holds a majority.
If confirmed, Scalia would be the seventh former lobbyist to hold a Cabinet post in the Trump administration’s first three years, outpacing the numbers Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush had in their 16 combined years in office.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., said she was concerned by some of Scalia’s legal work, including representing UPS in a lawsuit brought by workers who had paid out of pocket for protective gear for their jobs. She also cited his work defending the theme park SeaWorld, which contested violations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is part of the Labor Department, over the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, who died after one of the park’s killer whales thrashed her around a pool.
In contrast to other confirmation hearings that have been marked by open rancor displayed by some nominees in the face of such questioning, Scalia calmly responded to the complaints. He said he had advocated for workers, noting that, during a previous stint as the Department of Labor’s chief lawyer under George W. Bush, he had advocated for poultry workers who were not getting paid for their time dressing in safety gear before work.
“The most important thing to me as a practitioner has been fidelity to my obligations and to the law,” Scalia said.
He said that he believed that labor unions were “among the most effective advocates you will see for workplace safety and health.”
Scalia’s nomination has drawn opposition from unions such as United Steelworkers and the AFL-CIO.
Democrats have brought up articles Scalia wrote as a student at the University of Virginia in the 1980s in which he said gay parents were “in conflict with the traditional organization of society” and shouldn’t be treated “as equally acceptable or desirable as the traditional family.”
Scalia noted Thursday how much time had passed since 1985, and eventually said he wouldn’t make the same type of statements again.
“I would not write those words today, in part because I expect I now have friends and colleagues to whom they would cause pain,” he said. He later told Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., that he believed it wrong for employers to terminate someone based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Eugene Scalia, a lawyer and son of late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, faces a Senate panel Thursday.