Oprah tapes and GOP doubts: Is Puzder in trouble?

Now that Mitch McConnell has filed for cloture on six of Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks, the end of the slowest transition in American history may almost be in sight. Almost, though, is the operative word, because Labor Secretary Andrew Puzder will get his confirmation hearing on Wednesday — and looks to be stepping into a buzz saw. Already under fire for once employing an illegal immigrant as a household employee, old allegations from 1990 of domestic abuse have returned to haunt Puzder — even though his former wife had long ago retracted her claims.

Senate committee members got their chance to catch up on the old “Oprah” episode, Politico reports:

Senators in both parties have viewed an episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in which President Donald Trump’s Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Puzder’s former wife leveled allegations of physical abuse against him, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The decades-old video, which is not easily found, has been provided by the Oprah Winfrey Network, those sources said. The video has been provided to senators in a Capitol Hill office building, according to people who have seen it. OWN did not immediately comment for this story.

“I’ve arranged for senators on the committee to see that … I thought that was a reasonable request. No reason not to see it,” said Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). “That happened 27 years ago. 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.” …

Last month POLITICO reported that Puzder’s former wife, Lisa Fierstein, appeared in disguise on Oprah to discuss her abuse allegations, which she has since retracted, most recently in a letter to the Senate HELP Committee.

After 27 years, one would have to think that any control Puzder had over her would have entirely vanished. As the Riverfront Times noted in December, this allegation has followed Puzder for a very long time, thanks to Puzder’s pro-life activism and alliance with then-Governor John Ashcroft. Puzder consistently denied the allegations even while offering to resign from Ashcroft’s Task Force for Mothers and Unborn Children, which Ashcroft apparently refused to accept, keeping Puzder on board. That story also includes a recent e-mail from Fierstein expressing her “deep regret” at having made the allegations based on advice from counsel during their divorce:

You know how deeply I regret many of the rash decisions I made at that time and I sincerely hope that none of those decisions will become an issue for you at this time. I impulsively filed for a divorce without your knowledge and was counseled then to file an allegation of abuse. I regretted and still regret that decision and I withdrew those allegations over thirty years ago. You were not abusive.

I will most definitely confirm to anyone who may ask that in no way was there abuse. We had a heated argument. We both said things to one another that we regret to this day. I have always been grateful that we have been able to forgive one another for the hurt we caused caused each other. …

You and I resolved this long ago. We put it behind us and now enjoy what I consider to be a loving and respectful relationship. That is a testament to your integrity and grace. This would not have been possible if you had been a violent or abusive husband. You were not. I wish you always the best of luck in any and all of your endeavors. I know you would be an excellent addition to the Trump team.

Don’t expect the Democrats to let this go, however, for a couple of reasons. First, they desperately want at least one scalp from the Cabinet confirmation process to prove to their base that Senate Democrats are not entirely impotent. Second, any admission that Fierstein may have made up the allegations opens the door to testing other claims of abuse, and that’s not something progressives want to allow unless it comes to former Democratic presidents.

Of course, Puzder’s problems won’t be a lack of Democratic votes. Puzder has to keep practically every Republican Senator on board for his confirmation, and can only afford to lose two at the most, with Vice President Mike Pence as the backstop. Right now, though, the Washington Post counts four Republicans who have yet to commit to Puzder, and all four sit on the committee that will hold the confirmation hearing:

Puzder, 66, has faced the most early skepticism of any nominee besides Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who won confirmation. The Republican senators who were noncommittal about Puzder’s nomination on Monday — Susan Collins (Maine), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Tim Scott (S.C.) — sit on the committee that will hold his confirmation hearing Thursday. If they oppose him, his nomination is all but certainly dead.

Even if Puzder makes it out of committee, his final status may come down to a tiebreaker vote from Vice President Mike Pence similar to what happened last week for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. It is the latest reminder of the paradox of Trump’s Cabinet nominees — they have struggled for confirmation more than the nominees of any other administration in recent history, but criticism that might have in the past doomed a candidate’s chances may no longer prove decisive.

Some Republicans say they are willing to overlook issues related to undocumented workers or unpaid taxes for the opportunity to have a business-minded leader in the Labor Department. But the racy ads and domestic violence allegations may test some conservatives and women’s groups.

Racy ads? Come on, man. The ads may not be in the best taste, but they’re hardly worse than some of the topless protests and “Slutwalks” staged by feminist groups, either. The real issue in this fight isn’t over ad campaigns or years-old issues about domestic employment, but the fight unions are putting up to keep Puzder out, and the Democrats’ need for face-saving with their base. Senate Republicans shouldn’t cooperate with either, unless something more substantial than these issues arise.