Despite evident obstacles on her path to formal confirmation in the Senate, President Joe Biden intends to keep Julie Su at the helm of the Department of Labor permanently.
Since Labor Secretary Marty Walsh left the administration in early 2023, Su has been filling in for him. During the COVID-19 pandemic recovery, Su served as deputy labor secretary under Walsh, supporting the Biden administration in resolving critical labor and supply chain problems.
According to a White House official, Secretary Su became Acting Secretary following Secretary Walsh’s departure because of the department’s organic statute, not the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. Therefore, Su is not limited in her tenure as Acting Secretary by the Federal Vacancies Reform Act and can continue in that role indefinitely.
The Labor Department is exempt from the Federal Vacancies Reform Act’s stipulation that the Senate must confirm nominees within a specified period. In 2021, Su was established to serve as the labor secretary until the president announced a new nominee, a position she had held since her confirmation as the deputy labor secretary in 1986.
Since her nomination was announced five months ago, Su has had constant support from Biden, top White House officials, the majority of congressional Democrats, and several key union leaders.
However, there are only 51 Democratic senators; therefore, Su does not have the votes to be confirmed.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters this week that President Biden still thinks Su is fit to lead the Labor Department, despite criticism from several senators.
Jean-Pierre told reporters on July 19 that Biden selected Su because he thought she could do the job. And she’s done a fantastic job at it. Jean-Pierre recalled the essential labor agreements Su negotiated for the West Coast ports.
Sen. Joe Manchin’s criticisms of her performance as California’s labor secretary mirror those of many Republicans. California paid out $20 billion in false COVID-19 unemployment claims during her tenure, and those funds have yet to be accounted for.
However, moderate senators like Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Angus King (I-ME), and Jon Tester (D-MT) have yet to state whether or not they would vote for Su publicly.
Senator Jon Tester has spoken out against Su remaining in his position as acting secretary indefinitely, saying he did not back the idea during the last administration and would not support it again. Tester said, in his opinion, Su is not qualified to serve in an acting capacity.
As acting secretary, Chad Wolf oversaw the Department of Homeland Security, and Chris Miller presided over the Department of Defense. In September 2020, a federal judge in Maryland found that Wolf and his number two, acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli, violated the Constitution’s Appointments Clause and the Federal Vacancies Reform Act by continuing to work in their roles. Neither, however, lost their jobs as a result.