Another one of President Biden's cabinet nominees is facing a difficult road to confirmation. Thursday, President Biden's labor secretary nominee, Julie Su, faced tough questions about her policy priorities and her track record.
Su is the current acting secretary for the Department of Labor, and during her confirmation hearing Senate Democrats said Su is an advocate for workers.
"We need a labor secretary who will work each and every day to make it easier, not harder for workers to exercise their constitutional right to join unions and collectively bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Sen. Sanders said Su's experience and her support for key Democratic priorities like a higher minimum wage and strong unions makes her the right person for the job.
But Republicans in Thursday's hearing pressed her about her time leading California's labor department. Multiple GOP senators raised concerns about how she implemented the expanded unemployment benefits at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The fact that under your lead, unemployment insurance payments in California, of some $31 billion went to people who were basically receiving money on a criminal basis, illegally receiving money from the federal government. 31 billion, that's about as much as we provided in military aid to Ukraine," said Sen. Mitt Romney.
SEE MORE: President Biden to nominate Julie Su as next US labor secretary
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy later noted California was not the only state to struggle with unprecedented fraudulent payments. "I was looking at the percentages from other states when it came to insurance fraud. There's some big numbers too. The number in California is about 11% of benefits paid, but Tennessee was 15%. In Alabama, it was 14%. In South Carolina it was 14%. In Kansas it was 27%. Every state had issues here," said Sen. Murphy.
Su defended her record, in one instance saying,"Since I've been deputy secretary, what we've been doing in the Department of Labor is really trying to learn from those lessons, to make sure they're never repeated again, to work in collaboration with states, to be clear about the things we should do on a national level to fight that kind of fraud."
A handful of senators will hold the most sway over Su's confirmation. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin, Jon Tester and Mark Kelly haven't said whether they'll support her. And Independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is also a looming question mark.
Su was previously confirmed by the Senate as the deputy secretary of labor in July 2021, in a 50-47 party-line vote. In that role, Su worked alongside President Biden's first Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, who resigned in February. If confirmed, Su would be the first Asian American to serve in Pres. Biden's cabinet.
"When he announced my nomination for U.S. Secretary of Labor, the president called me the American dream. My parents believed in it. I benefited from it. And I want to do my part to make sure it is a reality for workers across the nation," said Su.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions will vote on Su's nomination Wednesday next week, before her nomination heads to the Senate floor for a full vote.
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