Julie Su, the White House’s pick to replace outgoing Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, had her first of two Senate hearings Thursday. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) was particularly pointed in his criticism of her record. Su has a follow-up hearing Wednesday.
Romney first noted that while Su has presented herself as a consensus builder, the Labor Department’s public calendar showed that in her two years as assistant secretary under Walsh, Su had had a regular standing meeting with union leaders. Until six weeks ago, she had not met with any business leaders.
“It’s hard to understand how, when we think about putting two groups together, getting to compromise and negotiating, how we can have any confidence that you would be seen as an unbiased, neutral arbiter,” Romney noted.
Su replied that business leaders who have worked with her in the past – presumably the ones she didn’t arrest – would paint a different story about her openness to working with them.
“But you’ve got to meet with them for them to do so,” Romney retorted.
Romney next zeroed on her career prior to joining the Biden administration, when she was California Labor Commissioner.
He pointed out that under her leadership the state paid out an estimated $31 billion in fraudulent unemployment payments. Other sources have put the figure even higher.
“$31 billion! That’s about as much as we have provided in military aid to Ukraine. That’s almost twice the total [annual] budget of the Department of Labor,” Romney said. He added, “There are guidelines in California that you chose to waive to get the money out.”
Su said that 95% of the fraud came during the Covid-19 pandemic, an “unprecedented crisis.” According to her, the program for those funds was separate from the one Romney was referencing. “The program that you are talking about did not have safeguards in its design,” she claimed. As soon as they learned of the fraud, it was shut down, she added.
Romney was unmoved.
“The buck stops at the top. You were the person running UI [unemployment insurance],” he said.
He added that the Su was a sterling example of the “Peter Principle,” the notion that people get promoted past their level of competency.
“Your record is so severely lacking I don’t know how in the world it makes sense for the president to nominate you to take over this department,” he said.