The Oprah Effect Strikes Again With Labor Secretary Confirmation

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It’s with a certain amount of stupefaction that I’ve watched Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks sail through the nomination process. Even Betsy DeVos, the controversial, inexperienced, and seemingly incompetent nominee for Education secretary, squeaked through on a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence. But it seems as if things might not work out so well for Trump’s Labor secretary, Andrew Puzder. There's now a powerful force working against Puzder: Oprah.

The media mogul’s Oprah Winfrey Network provided video of a 1990 episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show called “High-Class Battered Women,” which featured an interview with Puzder’s then-wife in which she leveled allegations of domestic abuse against him. Since then, Puzder’s now- ex-wife has retracted those claims, most recently in a letter to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

The leading Republican on that committee doesn’t believe the Oprah episode will have an effect on the nomination. “That happened 27 years ago,” Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee told POLITICO. “His former wife has said it was all not true. She has reiterated that in a heartfelt letter to members of the committee and has been willing to talk to members of the committee so I don’t think that’s an issue.”

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But the leading Democrat on the committee, Patty Murray of Washington state, said in an interview reported by POLITICO that she was “deeply troubled” by the allegations. Several senators have viewed the tape.

This is not the only hurdle facing Puzder in his quest for confirmation. Earlier this month, he admitted to employing an undocumented worker for several years in his household. Though he and his wife paid back taxes after Puzder was nominated to lead the Labor department, similar missteps have hurt Cabinet nominees in the past.

Additionally, questions have been raised about how Puzder will comply with ethics rules regarding Cabinet members, given that he is the CEO of CKE Restaurants, Inc., which owns Carl’s Jr. and Hardees fast food restaurants. Puzder has pledged that, if confirmed, he will divest his stake in the company, a stake worth several million dollars.

As of Monday, four Republican Senators who sit on the HELP Committee have not yet said how they’re going to vote on Puzder’s nomination. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, and Tim Scott of South Carolina are all still on the fence regarding Puzder's nomination, according to reports.

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If Puzder manages not to get those votes, it’s unlikely his nomination will make it out of committee. Even if he does scrape through to a vote on the floor of the Senate, it may be a nail-biter similar to DeVos.