WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump and a leading Republican are highlighting a key fact about labor secretary nominee Alexander Acosta: He has been confirmed three times by the Senate.
Acosta, who would be the first Hispanic member of Trump's Cabinet, has won confirmation to the National Labor Relations Board, as the head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and as U.S. attorney in Miami. That means he's already received some vetting — a practice for which the Trump administration is not known.
"Mr. Acosta's nomination is off to a good start because he's already been confirmed by the Senate three times," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate panel that will hold Acosta's yet-unscheduled confirmation hearing.
Trump also mentioned that fact during a brief statement on Acosta at the start of a press conference Thursday that swiftly became dominated by other issues. Acosta did not attend the event.
"He did very, very well," during his past Senate votes, Trump said.
Almost immediately, Acosta's Senate prospects for the labor post looked better than Andy Puzder's had after months of attacks on his personal life, statements and career as a fast-food CEO. He dropped out of consideration ahead of his hearing.
Leading Democrats and their allies vowed to hold Acosta "accountable" as the head of an agency charged with enforcing worker protections. But their reactions were muted compared to the scathing response to Puzder's nomination in December.
"Unlike Andy Puzder, Alexander Acosta's nomination deserves serious consideration," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement. "In one day, we've gone from a fast-food CEO who routinely violates labor law to a public servant with experience enforcing it."
Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, the leading Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, made a passing reference in her statement to having "some initial concerns about his record," but did not name them.
One blot on his time as U.S. attorney was a deal his office cut with Palm Beach billionaire Jeffrey Epstein that allowed Epstein to plead guilty to lesser state charges rather than federal charges of sexually assaulting dozens of underage girls. Epstein pleaded guilty in 2008 to the state charges and served 13 months in jail. He could have received a life sentence if federal charges had been brought.
Two of his victims later sued the U.S. government, claiming the deal was cut without their knowledge in violation of federal victims' rights laws. Acosta said in a 2011 letter defending his office that more evidence had come to light after Epstein made his deal.
"Many victims have spoken out, filing detailed statements in civil cases seeking damages. Physical evidence has been discovered," Acosta wrote. "Had these additional statements and evidence been known, the outcome may have been different."
The civil case is still pending in federal courts.
The Senate has not considered confirming Acosta to any government post since he became U.S. attorney in 2006.
Other groups pointed out that Acosta was head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division when the agency came under fire for applying political considerations to some hiring decisions. The agency's inspector general report said Acosta "did not sufficiently supervise" an employee to whom he had delegated hiring duties.
"This egregious conduct played out under Mr. Acosta's watch and undermined the integrity of the Civil Rights Division," said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law.
The Harvard-trained Miami native, now dean of the Florida International University law school, clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito when he was on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"He reminds me of one of those baseball players who can do everything," Alito said as he swore in Acosta in 2006 as South Florida's top federal prosecutor.
While Acosta was South Florida's top prosecutor, his office won the conviction of purported "dirty bomb" suspect and al-Qaida operative Jose Padilla on terrorism support charges; convicted former Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff and a partner on fraud charges involving a gambling fleet purchase; obtained guilty pleas from brothers Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez-Orejuela for operating Colombia's Cali cocaine cartel; and prosecuted Swiss bank UBS for allowing U.S. taxpayers to hide money overseas, resulting in the bank paying a $780 million fine and turning over names of secret account holders to the U.S.
Associated Press writers Darlene Superville and Ken Thomas in Washington and Curt Anderson in Miami contributed to this report.
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