Southern California fast-food executive Andy Puzder on Thursday blamed Democrats for the collapse of his nomination to be Labor secretary, even though he admitted he withdrew after being informed there was not enough support among Senate Republicans to confirm him.
"I think the big problem here was the left and the Democrats really didn't want a successful businessman who started out as a working-class kid. … That really was their worst nightmare for the Department of Labor," Puzder told Fox Business Network in his first public comments since withdrawing on Feb. 15.
"So they were going to do anything they possibly could to try and keep me out of that office," he said.
Puzder, chief executive of CKE Restaurants Inc., the parent company of the Carl's Jr. and Hardee's chains, said he was disappointed he would not get to serve in President Trump's Cabinet. Puzder told Fox Business Network's Neil Cavuto that it was difficult to watch the other Cabinet secretaries at Trump's address to Congress last week.
"It was kind of heartbreaking. But I'm fine," he said. "I'm going to continue to try to fight for workers' rights and free enterprise. I'm not giving up after this."
Puzder's nomination faced withering attacks by Democrats, unions, workers' rights advocates and fast-food employees. They criticized him for labor law violations at his company's restaurants and his opposition to a significant increase in the federal minimum wage.
But a growing number of Senate Republicans began having significant concerns about Puzder's nomination because of decades-old allegations of spousal abuse by his wife — who since has recanted the accusations — and Puzder's admission that he had employed a housekeeper who was in the U.S. illegally.
Puzder said a top administration official called him to say that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), an outspoken backer of the nomination, told the White House he didn't think there were enough votes for confirmation. With strong Democratic opposition, Republicans couldn't afford to lose the votes of more than two GOP senators from their slim majority.
"I didn't want to tilt at windmills," he said. "Once you had three senators who wouldn't support you in the Republican Party, you were done."
Puzder said that he had been looking forward to addressing critics at his hearing and that the White House offered to back him if he wanted to continue to fight.
After his withdrawal, Trump moved quickly to find a replacement and the next day nominated former Justice Department official R. Alexander Acosta as Labor secretary. His confirmation hearing is Wednesday.
Puzder's confirmation hearing was delayed four times because senators were awaiting his financial disclosure and ethics paperwork from the Office of Government Ethics. Puzder said Thursday he turned in the paperwork in early January, but the delays in processing it gave opponents a chance to build their case against him.
Some Republican senators also became concerned about voting for him after the backlash they received for confirming another controversial nominee, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, in early February, Puzder said.
"I think I would have been confirmed had the hearing gone as originally scheduled" in January, he said.
Puzder said he was not bitter and would consider serving in government in another role.
But, he added, "I wouldn't want to go through this process again."