Maybe it’s the curse of Montecito. Or Huffington’s revenge. Either way, it appears that Andy Puzder, until recently one of Montecito’s highest flying tycoon-o-crats, may go down in history as the only Trump cabinet nominee to go down in defeat. Should Puzder’s nomination fail—as it appears it might—it will rank as one of the most dubious non-achievements this side of the 20th century. Given the company Puzder’s keeping in terms of cabinet nominees, this is akin to being found more objectionable than Jack the Ripper, Richard Speck, and the Hillside Strangler. The only redeeming metric—at least for Andy—is the yardstick by which he’s deemed wanting. He isn’t, it turns out, sufficiently rabid when it comes to the issue of immigration.
Ever since Trump named Puzder as his first choice as labor secretary, the media has been awash with nefarious tales of his derring-do. Puzder was a heartless proponent of the minimum-wage economy, pontificating passionately against proposed increases to the minimum wage as excessive and counter-productive. His quotes about the superiority of robot workers and automation have clung to him like wet toilet paper affixed to the bottom of his shoe. Then there were the millions and millions he shelled out to settle labor-code-violation claims filed by the State of California. But in Trump-land—where cabinet members are selected based on their ideological hostility to the function and mission of the agency involved—such apparent deficiencies all worked in Puzder’s favor.
Then it surfaced that Puzder’s first wife had accused him in divorce papers of physical assault and battery. She later appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show—dressed in disguise—to repeat these claims. She’s since recanted multiple times, explaining she’d been steered wrong by a scurvy divorce lawyer looking to shake down her innocent husband. As for the appearance on Oprah, she said she was enticed by the prospect of a free airline ticket to Chicago. Accusations of domestic violence, however, carry little taint in the new administration. Trump himself was accused by his first wife of not just assault but rape in divorce papers. She, too, has recanted.
Then allegations of mob connections surfaced. And they’re undeniably juicy. Puzder’s first gig was to defend Morris Shenker, an attorney who for years funneled Teamsters Union pension funds to Las Vegas casinos. In the early ’80s, Shenker was under attack by the Labor Department for ripping off union pension funds to the tune of $25 million. According to press accounts, Puzder fainted right before opening arguments, recovered, bounced to his feet, and delivered a scorched-earth indictment of the Labor Department itself for botching a business deal that would have saved the day for all parties concerned. By all accounts, it made for impressive theatrics. The judge, however, didn’t buy it. Shenker was found guilty, ordered to pay $34 million, and quickly declared bankruptcy.
Trump’s achievement has been to fuse the alt-right haters looking to pick a postapocalyptic, clash-of-civilizations fight with Islam with the Christian evangelicals looking to roll back the clock of time on a host of issues. Puzder fits into this formulation because in the 1980s, he—then a young hotshot and right-to-lifer in St. Louis—wrote legislation that got signed into Missouri law declaring life begins at conception. That bill, challenged all the way to the Supreme Court, survives to this day.
Given the Senate approvals already secured by certifiable bottom feeders to Trump’s cabinet, the static accompanying Pudzer’s nomination mystifies. Betsy DeVos was approved, just barely, to the Department of Education—despite a depth of ignorance that astonishes even in today’s climate. Scott Pruitt was approved to run the EPA even though he was such a stooge for the oil industry that they wrote his material. And then there’s Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, who as a U.S. attorney in Alabama in the early 1980s, filed criminal election fraud charges against three African Americans for the crime of registering elderly blacks as absentee voters. Sessions didn’t merely throw the book at them; he sought to send them away for a combined 200 years. Though the charges would be dismissed, lasting damage was inflicted. When Sessions sought appointment as federal judge in 1986, Coretta Scott King wrote a letter denouncing him for his “shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.” Sessions lost that battle. But when Senator Elizabeth Warren sought to read Scott King’s letter on the floor of the Senate this Tuesday, she was cut off, silenced, and rebuked by Republican senate leader Mitch McConnell. The only thing missing was a dirty tennis ball jammed between Warren’s teeth.
In what may be Puzder’s coup de grace, it was revealed this week by the Huffington Post that for five years Puzder employed an “illegal” nanny at his Montecito manse. He didn’t know she was illegal at the time, paid back taxes, and offered to get her legalized. She declined for fear of alerting authorities to her existence. On the issue of immigration, Puzder has displayed a practical agnosticism common to many big-business bosses in need of cheap workers. In 2014, he wrote Congress in favor of a visa program to ensure a steady supply of “less-skilled foreign workers.” Americans, he noted, weren’t champing at his bit.
That Huffington Post broke the story is unintentionally hilarious. Back in 1994—back before she would famously change her spots, become a lefty doyen-ista, and found HuffPo—Arianna Huffington inadvertently deep-sixed the Senate bid of her so-called husband and Santa Barbara’s alleged congressman at the time, Michael Huffington. It came out that Arianna had hired an illegal nanny to help with their two daughters. That “scandal” broke only seconds after Michael endorsed an especially nasty anti-immigrant ballot initiative, Proposition 187. This apparent hypocrisy cost Michael the election and gave the world another 23 years of Senator Dianne Feinstein, who cast an especially strong vote against Sessions last week. Arianna, to be strictly accurate, sold HuffPo four years ago for $315 million and stepped down in 2016. Still, as a manifestation of karmic come-uppance, it’s a sweet accent note.
At the risk of appearing as narcissistically self-absorbed as I actually am, it’s worth mentioning that when the Huffington’s nanny scandal broke, Arianna publically accused me of trying to bribe the husband of her nanny to get the story. For the record, I definitely considered doing so but ultimately rejected the idea. Not only would it be wrong, but as a practical matter, The Santa Barbara Independent—then being a small, struggling weekly paper—lacked the resources to proffer a credible bribe. That did not stop Huffington the harridan from seeking to divert attention away from herself by making the media the story. She would release a notarized statement from the nanny’s husband claiming I represented myself as “good friends” with Feinstein and that I offered him and all his family members not just green cards but lifetime employment. If only I could. For the record, I have never met Feinstein. By way of bragging rights, I have a letter written by Senator Bob Dole, then a Republican warhorse and frequent presidential contender, written to Doris Meissner, then head of Immigration and Naturalization Services, demanding to know when Meissner was going to get around to investigating whether I tried to bribe the nanny or not. To her credit, Meissner always found something better to do.