On labor nominations, what a difference a president makes

Tomorrow, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) is set to consider President Trump’s nominees to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), as well as Trump’s pick for Deputy Secretary of Labor. Both the NLRB and the Department of Labor are critically important agencies for this nation’s workers. Senate Republicans were so concerned about President Obama’s nominees to the NLRB that they refused to allow a vote, leading to a showdown that culminated in then-Senate Majority Leader Reid threatening to use the “nuclear option” to change the Senate rules for confirmations. What a difference a president makes. Now, Senate Republicans have decided to rush the confirmation hearings by consolidating consideration of the NLRB nominees with a nominee to a senior post at the Department of Labor.

As an independent agency, the NLRB members do not report to the president, but rather, serve as neutral arbiters of our nation’s labor law (“umpires rather than advocates,” as Senator Lamar Alexander, the chair of the committee, likes to say). DOL, meanwhile, is a cabinet-level agency—and its leaders report directly to the president. The Deputy Secretary of Labor is a political position whose main role is not neutral interpretation of the law but rather to advance the administration’s policies. Considering these nominees alongside each other, given the incongruous nature of the positions and agencies they will serve, is an abdication of the committee’s responsibility to thoroughly review these nominations.

Rushing this process and consolidating what should be separate hearings on important nominations deprives senators of the opportunity to examine these nominations. Most importantly, it shortchanges U.S. workers who depend on these agencies and the officials who lead them to enforce their rights and protect their freedoms. We deserve a process that enables our representatives to meaningfully consider the nominations. At the very least, the HELP Committee should hold separate hearings on nominees who, if confirmed, would serve vastly different roles in vastly different agencies.