KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Donald Trump's nominee for labor secretary has withdrawn one day before he was due on Capitol Hill for a confirmation hearing. He is fast food CEO Andrew Puzder, and his withdrawal comes as it became clear he didn't have the votes to win. NPR's Yuki Noguchi is here to - with us to talk about this. Hi there, Yuki.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Hello.
MCEVERS: So it's pretty unusual for a Cabinet nomination to fail. I mean just a dozen or so in history have done so. Why didn't Andrew Puzder's nomination make it?
NOGUCHI: Well, he wasn't popular enough, especially with Democrats but even with some Republicans. We've of course seen in this administration our share of controversial nominees, but Puzder is the first Trump Cabinet pick to actually lose the fight. He was of course never popular with the unions.
Puzder has been CEO of the company that runs the Hardee's and Carl's Jr. fast food chains, and that industry has come in for a lot of criticism from workers for low wages, bad working conditions and the like. So they said Puzder would be the wrong guy to lead the agency whose job it is to enforce labor laws. Now, some conservatives didn't like him either because they saw him as soft on immigration issues, and that was not the kind of labor secretary they were looking for in a Trump administration.
MCEVERS: But it wasn't just union opposition and policy differences over immigration. I mean there were also personal problems, right?
NOGUCHI: And ultimately I think that's what sank him.
NOGUCHI: Puzder took a long time finishing the ethics paperwork he needed to submit as part of the confirmation process, and as time went on, more and more unflattering details came out about him personally. For one thing, he admitted he had employed a housekeeper who was in the country illegally. Even though he said he fired her and paid back taxes after finding out, that kind of a mistake has tanked Cabinet nominees in the past.
Then there was also this old issue from his divorce three decades ago. His ex-wife filed documents then alleging physical abuse - beatings around the neck and body. She even went on "The Oprah Show" in 1990 to discuss the incidents. Although, more recently, through an attorney, she now says she made those incidents up. What to make of that is confusing, but it clearly gave pause to people like Maine Republican Susan Collins, who remained undecided.
MCEVERS: Well, why did that incident matter in terms of him - his appointment as labor secretary?
NOGUCHI: Right. I think that story had legs because one of the things alleged about his restaurant chain and the fast food industry generally is that sexual harassment runs rampant. And if he were confirmed, he would have a say in things like workplace harassment and discrimination. And workers advocates were concerned that Puzder would side with employers and, you know, not actively enforce some of those laws.
MCEVERS: His confirmation hearing was supposed to be tomorrow. I mean what's next now?
NOGUCHI: Well, now Trump has to go back to the drawing board and name a new pick. And remember; both Trump and the Democrats lay claim to fighting for American workers. So I'm sure we'll hear lots more debate about who the best person is to do that at the Labor Department.
MCEVERS: NPR's Yuki Noguchi, thank you.
NOGUCHI: Thank you, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.