The Hawaii senator has spent years advocating for Julie Su, who if confirmed would be the first Asian American to hold a Cabinet-level secretary position in Biden’s administration.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono is in the middle of what’s shaping up as the next big fight on Capitol Hill.

For the past few months, President Joe Biden and top officials in the White House have been pressuring lawmakers to confirm Julie Su as his next labor secretary after already serving in an acting capacity during much of that time.

But pushback from big business and wary Democrats who face tough elections in 2024 have placed those efforts on the brink of failure.

“I just hope that everybody does the right thing and acknowledges the fact that Julie is very highly qualified and really does have widespread support,” Hirono said.

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono has stumped for years on behalf of Julie Su. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Su is a first generation American who is the daughter of Chinese parents. She has a law degree from Harvard and worked as a civil rights lawyer in California representing low-wage workers.

If confirmed, Su would be Biden’s first Cabinet-level secretary of Asian American descent, which Hirono said is critically important given the president’s outspoken statements about supporting diversity within his administration.

Hirono has been stumping for Su for years.

Shortly after Biden was elected, she sent a letter to him requesting that he consider Su for labor secretary. Hirono highlighted Su’s family background as well her advocacy work in making her pitch. The senator said Su “represents the best of what this country can be.”

The lobbying effort failed, at least in part. Biden tapped Marty Walsh, a former labor leader and mayor of Boston, for labor secretary and Su as his deputy. Hirono, however, did not give up.

When news broke that Walsh was leaving his post to run the NHL Players’ Association, Hirono approached Biden on the House floor after his 2023 State of the Union address and told him that he should tap Su to lead the department.

A few weeks later, Biden obliged and announced he was nominating Su to the position.

Republican opposition to the nomination, however, has been staunch. And outside business groups have mounted a campaign to sway a handful of swing-voting Democrats to their side to sink Su’s candidacy.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Labor Julie Su is being pushed for labor secretary by Sen. Mazie Hirono (U.S. Labor Department)

Among their concerns is that Su, who used to run California’s labor department, would try to implement policies similar to those she pursued at the state level when she ruled that gig workers for companies, such as Lyft and Uber, were actual employees rather than arms-length freelancers.

There’s also worry that, given her history as a workers rights advocate, she would be more aggressive when it comes to pursuing violations of labor law.

Hirono, of course, considers these concerns overblown. Su has received the backing of several labor groups in her quest for confirmation, including from the AFL-CIO, which is the largest coalition of the labor unions in the country.

The White House, too, is continuing its negotiations with senators and other lawmakers aimed at building support. A White House official said these talks were taking place even as the president was negotiating a deal with Republicans to suspend the debt ceiling and avoid a national default. And during a briefing this week, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre described efforts to confirm Su as a “full-court press.”

Hirono said she did not want to “name names” when it comes to who among her colleagues need to be pressured into voting for Su.

A handful of Democratic senators have said they have yet to decide which way they’ll vote, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana and Mark Kelly of Arizona. Kelly’s fellow Arizona senator, Kyrsten Sinema, who recently left the Democratic Party to become an independent, has also not given an indication of which way she’ll vote.

Manchin, Tester and Sinema are all up for reelection in 2024, and voters in their states have been inundated with anti-Su ads and billboards.

Hirono said that many of the same lawmakers who are now on the fence had previously voted to confirm Su as deputy labor secretary in 2021. All she asks of them now, she said, is to maintain that consistency.

“I would like all of the Democrats who voted for her to be deputy secretary to votefor her to be secretary,” Hirono said.

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