Do you remember Zoe Baird? In 1993, President-elect Bill Clinton nominated Baird, a prominent lawyer, to be the first female U.S. attorney general. Baird had told the Clinton transition team that she had, in violation of the law, employed a couple, both undocumented immigrants, to work for her family as chauffeur and baby sitter and that she had not paid their Social Security taxes. In a year when the median household income in the U.S. was $30,404, Baird was earning $500,000 annually, and a public outcry against the actions of this privileged scofflaw persuaded the Clinton White House to back away from Baird's nomination.
In place of Baird, Clinton nominated for attorney general federal Judge Kimba Wood, who — before passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which prohibited the hiring of undocumented immigrants — had legally employed as her full-time baby sitter an undocumented immigrant, whose Social Security taxes Wood had fully paid. Bowing to White House fear of renewed political and public protest, Wood withdrew her name from consideration.
Clinton's successor, Republican President George W. Bush, in 2001 nominated conservative commentator Linda Chavez to be secretary of labor. When it was revealed that for two years, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala had lived in Chavez's home — during which time Chavez admitted the woman had occasionally done some cleaning and been given, in addition to food and shelter, at least $1,500 — the Zoe Baird-Kimba Wood parallels were invoked. Chavez argued, "I don't check green cards when I see a woman who is battered and who has no place to live and nothing to eat and no way to get on her feet." But she correctly read the signals from the Bush White House and withdrew as a nominee.
Now, in 2017 — more than eight weeks after he was nominated to be secretary of labor by Donald Trump (and hours after it was revealed by The Huntington Post) — multimillionaire fast-food executive Andrew Puzder confessed in a statement, "My wife and I employed a housekeeper for a few years, during which I was unaware that she was not legally permitted to work in the U.S. When I learned of her status, we immediately ended her employment and offered her assistance in getting legal status." Puzder continued, "We have fully paid back taxes to the IRS and the State of California."
Let's look at the record. None of the three female nominees, all of whom were married — Baird, Wood and Chavez — ever invoked her husband in explaining any of the questionable actions that doomed her nomination. But not Trump's Puzder, who attempted to hide behind his spouse's skirts with his "my wife and I" construction. In short, Baird, Wood and Chavez all "manned" up when it came to hiring undocumented immigrants, whereas Puzder, in an unmanly way, has tried to duck responsibility.
Puzder, who has made a fortune (enough to give $1.3 million to Republican candidates, including Trump) in a bottom-line industry through shrinking workers' benefits and fighting all increases in the minimum wage, understands firsthand that undocumented immigrants are usually hardworking, uncomplaining and powerless. But somehow he never once thought to ask for an ID or a Social Security number or to pay a dime of the taxes every family in America with even one-day-a-week help knows it owes. What did he pay this vulnerable woman? Where is the evidence?
The secretary of labor has no more urgent moral obligation than to guarantee that in every American workplace, there is tolerated no violation of labor laws or civil rights laws or immigration laws. It would be unjust and unacceptable for the U.S. Senate in 2017 not to hold this male Cabinet nominee, Andrew Puzder, to the same standards for confirmation faced in the past by Zoe Baird, Kimba Wood and Linda Chavez.
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.