Labor Secretary Marty Walsh is expected to step down in the coming days to take a job leading the National Hockey League Players Association, and while that’s not official yet, the jockeying to replace him is already well underway.
There’s an obvious choice to replace Walsh: Deputy Labor Secretary Julie Su. She’s hugely qualified—in addition to being the current deputy labor secretary, she’s a former California labor secretary—and President Joe Biden has already faced pressure over the low representation of Asian Americans at the Cabinet level in his administration. (In addition to Vice President Kamala Harris, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Office of Science and Technology Policy head Arati Prabhakar are considered Cabinet level, but there are no Asian Americans currently holding the title of secretary in a traditional Cabinet role.)
Both the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) have endorsed Su to replace Walsh. The CBC described her as “an unwavering advocate for workers’ rights” and “a trusted partner of the CBC and advocate for underserved communities.”
”Given her experience serving as Deputy Secretary of Labor since July 2021, we know Deputy Secretary Su can hit the ground running on executing existing initiatives of the Department while implementing new ones,” CAPAC said in its statement. “Because she is in the best position to understand the Department’s work and needs, and because the inclusion of an AANHPI as a Cabinet Secretary is long overdue, CAPAC endorses her to serve as Secretary of Labor and urges President Biden to swiftly nominate her to the role when appropriate.”
If Walsh leaves as soon as expected, Su will become acting labor secretary. At The American Prospect, Robert Kuttner has noted that she was confirmed to her current role with just 50 votes and could face difficulty even with the slightly expanded Democratic majority in the Senate, especially because the big gig work companies like Uber and Lyft really hate her and are prepared to lobby against her. He advocates for Biden to leave Su in the acting role until the end of his current term.
Acting or confirmed, Su would, as CAPAC noted, be able to “hit the ground running on executing existing initiatives” while drawing on deep experience fighting for workers and fulfilling Biden’s stated commitment to diversity. She’s the right choice.
There are other options, though. One name mentioned frequently—now and when Biden was first elected, before he nominated Walsh—is former Rep. Andy Levin, who lost a member versus member primary in Michigan last year following redistricting. Before running for office, Levin had a career as a labor organizer, serving as assistant organizing director at the AFL-CIO for more than a decade. He, too, would be highly qualified for the role—but he is not campaigning for the job. Instead, he reportedly hopes to be named ambassador to Haiti.
Another name has come up recently, though, who is campaigning for the job despite being much less qualified: former Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who was head of the DCCC in 2022 and lost his own seat amid massive underperformance by Democrats in his home state of New York. Maloney was a staffer in the Clinton White House (not on labor issues) and has worked as a software company executive and big-law attorney. While he’s been an adequately pro-worker House Democrat, he hasn’t done anything in his life to make him a strongly qualified choice for secretary of Labor. But what he has going for him is that Nancy Pelosi is making calls on his behalf, in a rare misstep for the former speaker. Pelosi should back off—Labor secretary is not a consolation prize for her allies—and if she doesn’t, Biden should, on this specific issue, politely ignore her.