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U.S. Senate panel to weigh law school dean Acosta for labor secretary

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - R. Alexander Acosta, tapped by President Donald Trump to head the U.S. Labor Department, will appear before a Senate panel on Wednesday morning for an initial hearing on how he would lead the agency.

U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta (L) and other law enforcement officials hold a news conference in Miami, Florida, June 23, 2006.REUTERS/Marc Serota/Files

Acosta, a former member of the National Labor Relations Board and dean of the Florida International University College of Law in Miami, was nominated to be the U.S. secretary of labor in mid-February, just one day after the president’s original choice withdrew from consideration.

Acosta has had a decades-long career in the public sector, serving on the National Labor Relations Board under former Republican President George W. Bush, who also appointed him to be assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

He was then appointed U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, where he went after high-profile defendants such as Jack Abramoff and UBS, resulting in the Swiss bank paying more than $750 million in fines for a tax-avoidance scheme.

Acosta had served as a law clerk to Samuel Alito from 1994 to 1995, when the conservative Supreme Court justice was a judge at the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Because Acosta has already gone through multiple Senate vettings for previous appointments, it is unlikely there will be any surprises in his background that could derail his nomination and he is expected to have a smooth confirmation process.

Nevertheless, Democrats on the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions will likely question Acosta about Trump’s proposal to slash the Labor Department’s budget by 21 percent and the administration’s proposed delay of the Obama administration’s fiduciary rule for retirement investment advisers set to take effect next month.

In a 23-page letter to Acosta dated Tuesday, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, one of the most high-profile Democrats on the panel, laid out the concerns she wanted the nominee to address on Wednesday, beginning with the agency’s budget.

“These draconian cuts will hobble your ability to run core parts of the agency, including the divisions that investigate and enforce the federal health and safety standards that keep workers safe on the job and the federal wage and hour laws that ensure that workers are paid fairly,” Warren wrote.

If Acosta clears the panel he will come up for a confirmation vote before the full U.S. Senate.

Additional reporting by Robert Iafolla; Editing by Leslie Adler