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Trading one controversial Labor secretary for another

Donald Trump’s first choice for Labor secretary was an embarrassing fiasco: Andrew Puzder was forced to withdraw less than a month into the Republican’s presidency for a variety of reasons, not the least of which were allegations of domestic violence raised by his ex-wife.

Trump’s second choice for Labor secretary fared better – Alex Acosta managed to get confirmed by the Senate – though he resigned under a cloud of scandal last week, under pressure over a sweetheart deal he approved for a sexual predator accused of trafficking children.

All of which brings us to Patrick Pizzella, the president’s new, acting Labor secretary. As CNBC reported, “Democratic senators and civil rights groups have expressed concern about Pizzella’s prior work with disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff in the late 1990s and early 2000s to hamper worker protections in the Northern Mariana Islands.”

Mother Jones added in an updated report from two years ago:

There’s lobbying, and then there’s working with Jack Abramoff to promote the sweatshop economy on remote Pacific islands. If you want to know about that kind of lobbying, you can ask Patrick Pizzella, President Donald Trump’s pick to be deputy labor secretary. Or maybe you can’t.

At a July [2017] Senate confirmation hearing, Pizzella said he didn’t remember much about the work he did in the late 1990s to help the Northern Mariana Islands…. What Pizzella didn’t say was that he helped lead a public relations campaign to rebrand the islands as a paragon of free-market principles. Between 1996 and 2000, emails and billing records reviewed by Mother Jones show that Pizzella and colleagues organized all-expenses-paid trips to the islands for more than 100 members of Congress, their staffers, and conservative thought leaders. When they got back, Pizzella helped them convince colleagues that the Northern Mariana Islands were, as his old boss Abramoff liked to put it, a “laboratory of liberty.”

Politico added on Friday that Pizzella is “a polarizing figure beloved by conservatives for his pro-business views and disliked by unions and Democrats for a history of opposing worker protections.”

It’s worth emphasizing that Pizzella is now the acting Labor secretary, but he isn’t the White House’s official nominee for the post, at least not yet. If recent history is any guide, the president won’t be in any rush to send anyone to replace Acosta to the Senate, preferring a cabinet stacked with acting chiefs.

But if Trump does tap Pizzella to lead the Department of Labor, it’ll fit a curious pattern of scandal-plagued nominees for the position.