WASHINGTON — While much of D.C. made sense of the revelations found in the explosive intelligence-community whistleblower complaint on Thursday, the Trump administration’s methodical campaign to demolish every regulation in sight and cozy up to corporations took a big step forward.
The Senate Thursday evening narrowly confirmed Eugene Scalia, son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, to run the Department of Labor. A longtime corporate lawyer whose client roster has included Goldman Sachs, Facebook, Walmart, and Juul Labs, Scalia will now lead the federal agency tasked with overseeing workers’ rights and labor laws.
Republicans celebrated Scalia’s nomination as Labor secretary. But Democrats and labor leaders were overwhelmingly critical of the pick, with AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka calling Scalia’s nomination “insulting” and “dangerous.” He added, “Workers are not going to forget it.”
Scalia has experience working at the Labor Department, having served as the agency’s chief legal officer under President George W. Bush. But he’s best known as Corporate America’s go-to lawyer for fighting new regulations in the works by the federal government.
Scalia waged a wildly successful battle to stymie the implementation of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, the legislation intended to prevent the next Wall Street crash. Ex-Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), one of the authors of that law, told Mother Jones about Scalia and his big-bank clients: “These are ideologues who want to kill the rules. They can’t say they’re unconstitutional. They are doing this because it’s the only possible way to knock them out.”
But Scalia’s bread-and-butter, by most indications, was his work in labor law. He helped UPS fight a lawsuit by its workers who had paid for their protective workplace gear, and defended SeaWorld from allegations that it violated federal worker-safety regulations after one of its trainers was killed by an orca. (In his confirmation hearing, Scalia responded to Democrats who cited these episodes by saying that he supported labor unions in some workplaces and “fundamental” that workers have the ability to opt in or out of joining a union.)
Scalia also faced tough questioning for op-eds he wrote as a college student in the mid-1980s that were openly hostile to LGBT people. In one article he wrote that same-sex parents were “in conflict with the traditional organization of society” and shouldn’t be treated “as equally acceptable or desirable as the traditional family.” In another, promoted by the Democratic National Committee, Scalia came to the defense of a printer who refused to produce a poster for an event called “Homosexuals in Society,” writing that “unlike discrimination on the basis of race, sex, or religion, discrimination on the basis of ‘sexual orientation’ is legal.” (In his confirmation hearing, Scalia said discrimination on the basis of sexual oritentation is “wrong.”)
The best way to think of the Trump administration is as an extension of industry. In that light, Scalia’s confirmation makes perfect sense. He is the seventh ex-lobbyist to take a position in President Trump’s cabinet, and brings to the job of Labor secretary several decades’ worth of experience representing some of the same companies he will now oversee.
The corporate bigwigs who backed Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016 and who reap the benefits of Trump’s deregulatory agenda surely couldn’t be happier with a Secretary Scalia.