By Tim Devaney - 02-13-17 06:00 AM EST
The fight over President Trump's Cabinet is moving from Betsy DeVos to Andrew Puzder.
Democrats think Puzder, Trump's nominee to lead the Labor Department, represents their best chance to block a Cabinet pick after DeVos, the Education secretary, squeaked through the Senate on a historic tie-breaking vote by Vice President Pence.
The CEO of a fast food conglomerate that owns Hardee's and Carl Jr.'s, Puzder has several vulnerabilities. He admitted to hiring a housekeeper who was an illegal immigrant, his wife once accused him of domestic violence - an accusation she has since retracted - and groups have attacked the way workers are treated at his restaurants.
Democrats are promising to raise those issues and more at Puzder's confirmation hearing on Thursday.
"Donald Trump ran on the promise of putting workers first, and what he's done in nominating Puzder, is show he never intended to keep that promise," a Senate Democratic aide told The Hill.
"For a lot of voters, that's not what they had in mind when they entrusted Trump with their futures."
Making matters tougher for Puzder, he is also facing criticism from the right over his stance on immigration. Some conservatives questionwhether he would be weak on immigration enforcement, while others have criticized his restaurants for employing foreign guest workers.
Groups affiliated with the religious right, meanwhile, have bristled at Puzder's use of bikini-clad women in racy ads for his restaurants. CNN reported Friday Puzder was forced to step down from the board of Thomas Aquinas College after the Catholic school found the ads offensive.
"Trump is taking heat from the left and the right over Puzder," the Senate Democratic aide said.
So far, no Republican senators have said they will oppose Puzder, though several have yet to say how they'll vote, including Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), and Tim Scott (S.C.). Both Collins and Murkowski voted against DeVos.
If every Senate Democrat were to oppose Puzder, Republicans could only lose two votes and still get him confirmed.
Senate Republican leaders remain firmly behind Trump's nominee. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, have both praised him as the right man for the job.
"Mr. Puzder is a respected Tennessee business leader who understands how excessive regulation can destroy jobs and make it harder for family incomes to rise," Alexander said in a statement supporting Puzder. "I look forward to working with him to create an environment to help create jobs for more Americans."
And while Democrats have succeeded in galvanizing their base against Trump's nominees, they have yet to successfully stop any of them.
Even the outcry against DeVos, fueled in part by the advocacy of teachers unions, wasn't enough to stop her confirmation.
A second Senate Democratic aide said Puzder's performance at his confirmation hearing could prove decisive.
"There's a lot riding on the hearing, and if Puzder does not do well and makes some of the same mistakes DeVos did, he could put Republicans in a tough position," the aide said.
"But there's also a lot of pressure on Republicans right now to deliver these nominees for the White House."
Some of Puzder's biggest critics include employees at his restaurants.
The union-organized Fight for $15 is taking the fight to the streets, organizing protests led by Carl's Jr. and Hardee's employees in dozens of cities around the country. The group will hold its "most militant" protest yet this coming Monday, said organizing director Kendall Fells.
The workers accuse Puzder of promoting a culture of intimidation, sexual harassment and wage theft at his restaurants.
"The idea that Puzder could be in charge of upholding the same laws that he's been breaking is hard to fathom," Fells said.
"The workers who have been employed by Puzder for years are livid, they're extremely upset about the possibility of him becoming the secretary of Labor," he added.
The Fight for $15 and National Employment Law Project (NELP) are turning up the heat on the Senate HELP Committee that is overseeing Puzder's nomination, particularly those four GOP senators who have expressed doubts.
Their message is simple: Do not be a "blank check for Trump or Puzder," said Judy Conti, federal advocacy coordinator at NELP.
Conti claims many GOP senators are "troubled" by Puzder's nomination.
"There's as good a chance we can block Puzder as any of the other Cabinet nominees, and we're going to fight that down to the wire," Conti said.
NELP plans to bombard Republicans senators on the HELP Committee with "tens of thousands of calls" and will organize lobby visits in their offices after the confirmation hearing, Conti said.
Fight for $15 this past Monday delivered a petition signed by more than 312,000 workers to members of the HELP Committee, urging lawmakers to block Puzder's nomination.
"We're giving it everything we've got to stop this guy," Conti said.