A Senate committee on Thursday overwhelmingly approved Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s nomination to become US labor secretary, setting him up for confirmation to the Cabinet post this month.
The 18-4 vote by the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee came after the Democrat and former union president sailed through his confirmation hearing last week. The no votes all came from Republicans: Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Braun of Indiana, Tim Scott of South Carolina, and Jerry Moran of Kansas.
Walsh’s nomination now lines up behind those of several of President Biden’s other Cabinet picks awaiting Senate confirmation votes. A few minutes before the committee approved Walsh, it voted 17-5 to approve Miguel Cardona, Connecticut’s education commissioner, to be education secretary.
It’s unclear when Walsh’s confirmation vote will take place with the Senate tied up for much of at least this week with the impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump and scheduled to be in recess next week.
So far, most of Biden’s Cabinet nominees have received some Republican opposition in committee votes. But the majority of Republicans on the HELP committee joined all Democrats in approving Walsh, who is expected to be easily confirmed by the full Senate.
Committee chairwoman Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, said Walsh and Cardona are well-qualified and ready to work with Congress. The committee’s top Republican, Richard Burr of North Carolina, supported both nominations and also encouraged his colleagues to do so shortly before the votes.
“Mayor Walsh has the background, the skills, and awareness of the need for balance in conversations between labor and management,” Burr said. “He emphasized he wanted to work with us collaboratively to help the American workers improve and expand opportunities.”
Walsh is waiting to be confirmed before resigning as Boston mayor. If he steps down before March 5, the city would usually be required to hold a special election to replace him in addition to the regularly scheduled preliminary and general elections this fall. But the Boston City Council last week approved a home-rule petition that would avoid a special election under that scenario. Walsh signed the petition, which now needs to be approved by state lawmakers and Governor Charlie Baker.
Walsh would become the first former union leader in decades to head the Labor Department, an agency that oversees federal laws covering overtime, workers’ compensation, and workplace health and safety for more than 150 million workers. He has stressed the role unions played in his life, helping his immigrant parents to reach the middle class, and supports strengthening the rights of workers to organize. That puts him at odds with many Republican senators, particularly those from so-called “right to work” states in the South that limit union activity.
He was nominated for the position last month by Biden, a longtime friend, and is expected to be a key player on some of the administration’s top priorities, including the push to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and transitioning workers to clean-energy jobs to fight climate change.
During his Feb. 4 confirmation hearing, Walsh backed the minimum wage increase, which is included in Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief legislation working its way through Congress. Walsh also said he supported tougher temporary workplace safety standards because of COVID-19 through the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Walsh thanked essential workers on the front lines of the pandemic, specifically pointing to grocery store employees, nurses, ambulance drivers, and custodians.
“If I don’t protect those workers, if we don’t protect those workers, then I don’t have a right to be sitting in that seat,” he said of the labor secretary position. “And those are my people.”