Trump La­bor pick ques­tioned about past labors, po­si­tions

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD - By Eli Rosen­berg

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.

ASTRID RIECKEN/GETTY

Eu­gene Scalia, a lawyer and son of late Supreme Court Jus­tice An­tonin Scalia, faces a Sen­ate panel Thurs­day.

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