U.S. Senate rejects another Biden nominee for labor post

Signage is seen at the United States Department of Labor headquarters in Washington, D.C., U.S., August 29, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
  • Pick to head employee benefits office shot down 51-49
  • Democrat leader leaves door open for second vote
  • Senate in March rejected another labor nominee criticized by trade groups

(Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Wednesday rejected President Joe Biden's pick to head the U.S. Department of Labor office that regulates employee benefit plans, after recently turning down another nominee for a key post at the agency.

The Senate voted 51-49 along party lines against the nomination of Lisa Gomez, a partner at Cohen, Weiss & Simon in New York, to lead DOL's Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA).

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, initially voted to confirm Gomez but changed his vote when it became apparent that the Senate was headed toward a 50-50 split. That allowed Schumer to file a motion for reconsideration of Gomez's nomination, leaving the door open for a potential second vote.

Vice President Kamala Harris, a Democrat, was not in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to cast a tie-breaking vote.

Gomez, who joined Cohen, Weiss & Simon in 1994, represents employee benefits plans, including those administered by employers and unions, and has represented unions directly in litigation involving worker benefits.

She did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Nor did the White House and DOL.

Gomez had faced little opposition and was not asked pointed questions during a Senate hearing in October.

But EBSA drew criticism from Republicans after unveiling a proposal last year that would require retirement plan fiduciaries to consider environmental, social and corporate governance issues when deciding whether to invest in companies.

Wednesday's vote came after the Senate in March rejected Biden's nominee to lead DOL's Wage and Hour Division, which enforces federal wage laws. Biden has not named a new nominee for the post.

The nominee, David Weil, headed the office during the Obama administration and drew the ire of many business groups for aggressively policing companies' classification of workers as independent contractors, who are not protected by laws covering employees such as minimum wage and overtime requirements.

Read more:

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Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.