Julie Su, President Joe Biden’s nominee as Deputy Secretary of Labor, was confirmed Tuesday by the Senate despite worries about her inability to stem an avalanche of California unemployment benefit fraud during the CCP Virus-prompted economic lockdown.
Su, the Director of California’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency, was confirmed on a straight-party vote, with 48 Democrats and two nominal Independents supporting her nomination and all 47 Republicans present voting against the nomination.
The three absent Republican senators were Mike Braun of Indiana, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, and Todd Young of Indiana. Had the GOP trio voted against Su, it would have become necessary for Vice-President Kamala Harris to be presiding over the Senate and cast the deciding vote.
Earlier in the day, the Senate agreed on the same straight-party cloture vote that cleared the way for the final decision on the nomination. Su joins former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, the Secretary of Labor confirmed earlier this year by the Senate on a 68-29 vote.
At one point early in the Biden administration, Su was favored to be the top nominee for DOL, but she was unable to overcome Walsh’s aggressive backing by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who has a long-time relationship with the chief executive.
Su will serve as the number two Biden appointee managing the Department of Labor (DOL) at a time when the federal government continues providing hundreds of billions of tax dollars in supplemental unemployment benefits to millions of Americans who lost jobs as a result of the lockdown.
Su’s nomination was plagued from its White House announcement in February by her record as the California state government’s top labor official.
Shortly after Biden’s intention to nominate became public, Su convened a news conference to confirm that at least $11 billion had been lost to fraudulent unemployment claims, or almost 10 percent of the $114 billion her agency had paid out during the national economic lockdown prompted by the CCP virus, which is also known as the novel coronavirus.
Another $20 billion in fraudulent claims that were paid were ultimately confirmed, bringing the total under Su’s leadership to more than $31 billion.
Su’s prospects weren’t helped a few days later when a California State Auditor report concluded that an office under her purview had stopped doing eligibility checks in order to speed up processing of claims that began accumulating at the outset of lockdown.
“As claims began to surge in March 2020, [California’s Employment Development Department] EDD halted most of its work determining whether claimants were eligible for Unemployment Insurance benefits,” the report said.
“This action curbed the size of its claims backlog significantly and resulted in more timely payments to Californians. However, it also compromised the integrity of the program and may hinder the ability of the department to conduct day-to-day operations in the future,” the report continued.
Su acknowledged the problems, telling reporters during a Jan. 25 news conference that, “there is no sugarcoating the reality. California has not had sufficient security measures in place to prevent this level of fraud, and criminals took advantage of the situation.”
Testifying before the Senate in March, Su said her experience in coping with the California fraud would assist her in helping DOL fight the problem at the federal level.
Less visible than the unemployment fraud during the Senate’s consideration was Su’s role as one of the leading architects of a controversial California law that mandated a three-step “ABC” test for independent contractors such as Uber and Lyft drivers and others in the national “gig” economy of free-lance individuals working in jobs made possible by social media.
The law was so unpopular that 59 percent of California voters supported a referendum mandating an exception to it in the November 2020 election.
Two Senate Democrats spoke on the floor supporting Su prior to the confirmation vote, including Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).
“It is clear that workers need a deputy secretary of labor who is committed to building back a stronger, fairer economy, someone who will work diligently to make sure workers have a fairer and just workplace, a livable wage, a secure retirement, safe working conditions, access to accommodations and are treated with dignity and respect, which is why I’m so glad to support Julie Su’s nomination,” Murray said during brief remarks.
None of the 47 Republican senators who opposed Su spoke against her nomination on the floor prior to the final vote.
Congressional correspondent Mark Tapscott may be contacted at [email protected]