Andrew Puzder withdraws labor nomination, throwing White House into more turmoil,Andrew Puzder withdraws as nominee for secretary of labor Andrew Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants and President Trump’s pick for labor secretary, withdrew his nomination on Feb. 15. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post) Andrew Puzder, President Trump’s labor secretary nominee, withdrew from consideration Wednesday amid growing resistance from Senate Republicans centered primarily on Puzder’s past employment of an undocumented housekeeper.The collapse of Puzder’s nomination threw the White House into further turmoil just two days after the resignation of Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, amid revelations that Flynn had spoken repeatedly, and possibly illegally, with the Russian ambassador last year about lifting U.S. sanctions.Puzder’s fate amplified the deteriorating relationship between the White House and Capitol Hill, where bipartisan support grew Wednesday for expanded investigations into ties between Trump, his presidential campaign and Russian officials.The White House, including Trump, offered no comment on Puzder’s withdrawal nor any indication of whom the president would nominate in the restaurant executive’s place. Puzder issued a statement saying he was “honored” to have been nominated. “While I won’t be serving in the administration, I fully support the President and his highly qualified team,” he said.A top Trump campaign supporter, Puzder had attracted widespread criticism regarding his business record and personal background. He was set to testify Thursday at a confirmation hearing that had been delayed for weeks to allow for the completion of an ethics review of his vast personal wealth. Critics have railed against Puzder’s positions against minimum-wage increases and more generous overtime benefits. Some have also accused him of sexism, pointed to a rancorous divorce that involved later-recanted allegations of domestic abuse as well as racy TV ads run by his restaurant chains that featured scantily clad women eating hamburgers.But it was Puzder’s hiring of an undocumented worker for domestic work — as well as his support for more liberalized immigration policies — that pushed several Senate Republicans away, they said.Puzder had told the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions this month that he had been unaware of the housekeeper’s immigration status when he hired her and that he paid federal and state back taxes after terminating her employment.Similar revelations have forced Cabinet nominees to withdraw dating to at least Bill Clinton’s presidency, but it was less clear this year, in the unpredictable, rule-breaking era of Trump, whether that norm would apply. In the end, the revelation was particularly troubling to lawmakers because of the job Puzder was seeking: running the Labor Department.Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), a member of the Senate health committee, said Wednesday that revelations about Puzder’s personal employment practices gave him “serious concerns” that he had conveyed to Senate leaders. Three other GOP senators on the committee, Susan Collins (Maine), Johnny Isakson (Ga.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), had also publicly voiced doubts.In the hours before Puzder withdrew, 12 Republican senators “at a minimum” were withholding support, according to a senior Republican who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid political retribution. The quick erosion of support compelled Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to tell the White House on Wednesday that Puzder lacked the support needed to survive, according to two senior Senate aides who requested anonymity. Shortly after that, Puzder withdrew.Senators may yet face another contentious confirmation vote Thursday, when Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), Trump’s nominee to lead the Office of Management and Budget, is scheduled for a final vote on the Senate floor. On Wednesday, Mulvaney lost the backing of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who objects to Mulvaney’s support for military spending cuts.
In first under Trump, Russian jets buzzed a U.S. destroyer at close range reported by the Washington Free Beacon.Lt. Col. David Faggard, a U.S. European Command spokesman, said the USS Porter, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, was returning from an exercise with the Romanian navy when an Il-38 sub-hunting quad-engine aircraft approached at a high speed and low altitude. The Il-38 was followed by two Su-24 fighter-bomber jets and then a single Su-24.Checkpoint newsletterMilitary, defense and security at home and abroad.Faggard said the aircraft did not respond to radio calls and that they did not have their identification transponders turned on. He could not confirm whether the jets were armed and would not specify the altitude of the aircraft.“Incidents like this are concerning because a miscommunication could turn into an accident or miscalculation,” Faggard said, adding that the captain of the Porter called the flybys “unprofessional.”During the campaign, President Trump had suggested that such incidents show “how low we’ve gone that they can toy with us like that.” He said that Russian President Vladimir Putin should be warned in a phone call to stop and if the flybys continued then “when that sucker comes by you, you gotta shoot.”U.S. military forces have continued to deploy into Eastern Europe under plans laid out under the Obama administration. Russia has routinely decried the troop deployments and Navy maneuvers as NATO provocations.A NATO fighter pilot describes close encounters with Russian planes testing Western airspacePlay Video0:58 Russian pilots have been buzzing NATO airspace in the Baltic region, keeping a contingent of German fighter pilots busy at a remote air base in Estonia. During close encounters, the NATO pilots often fly within 10 yards of the Russian jets, close enough to wave hello, or in one recent incident, see a Russian pilot brush them off with a middle finger. (Michael Birnbaum/The Washington Post)Last week’s incident fits a pattern of “unsafe” Russian aircraft activity that has spiked since Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula and backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, beginning in 2014. The most recent close call around the Black Sea occurred in September, when a Russian Su-27 fighter aircraft made a “close-range intercept” with a U.S. P-8 Poseidon, a maritime surveillance plane.Russian attack jets fly ‘aggressively’ near Navy ship Play Video1:27Russian attack jets flew „dangerously close” to U.S. Navy destroyer in the Baltic Sea April 11 and 12. The Navy said it is reviewing the incident. (U.S. Navy)In April, there were multiple encounters with Russian aircraft over the Baltic Sea. Two Su-24s and a flight of helicopters buzzed the destroyer USS Donald Cook and an RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft in two separate incidents. The jets came within 30 feet of the Cook’s rear deck, and the RC-135 was on a “routine” mission when an Su-27 barrel-rolled over it from wingtip to wingtip.This post has been corrected to reflect that an Il-38 has four engines, not two.Related on Checkpoint:Inside the Ukrainian special forces fight against separatists — and their own government How Russian special forces are shaping the fight in SyriaWhy Russia is sending airstrike information to a U.S. military nerve center in QatarA Russian Su-24 buzzes the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea on April 12, 2016. (U.S. Navy)Multiple Russian aircraft buzzed a U.S. destroyer patrolling in the Black Sea last week, in an incident the captain of the American ship called “unsafe,” the Pentagon said Tuesday.The three flybys occurred on Feb. 10 and were first
Patrick Park doesn’t think of himself as a political person. The Palm Beach philanthropist spends most of his time and considerable fortune raising money for charity. But when Donald Trump was elected on Nov. 8, he started thinking about how he could help the president and the nation.“I wrote him a little note and said, ‘I want to serve our country. Is there something I can do?’ ” says Park.“Something” turned out to be a possible ambassadorship — nothing definite, of course, — when the two men talked in Florida over the holidays. They’ve been close friends for 18 years, and Park, 63, estimates that he has chaired close to 200 fundraisers at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, raising more than $100 million for a variety of causes.But he’s not active in politics and says he didn’t raise a dime for Trump’s campaign, although he attended a Trump rally at his family’s exhibition hall outside Cleveland and happily voted for him.So their conversation was less about foreign policy and more about skill sets. Working in philanthropy, Park told Trump, was not unlike serving as an ambassador: It’s all about dealing with people, promoting the country.“His response? ‘I think you would be very good at that, and I think that would be good for you,’ ” recalls Park.They even talked about where Park might serve: A good fit might be Austria, because Park has a background in music and a long history of fundraising for the arts. “It’s a very cultural nation,” he says.There were no promises, but Trump assured Park that he’d hear more in due course. Now, like so many friends of the president’s, he’s waiting to hear from the White House and says that he’s honored to be considered.“There’s a process,” says Park. “I’m hoping it works out.”And so it begins: the march of ambassadors.It’s one of the most prestigious titles in public service and requires no diplomatic experience, just the blessing of the president and Senate confirmation. Most of the top postings — Western Europe and the Caribbean — go to political appointees, traditionally close friends and top campaign donors. The balance, about 70 percent of the 188 U.S. ambassadorships worldwide, go to career diplomats.Traditionally, the selection has been a secret process with no public comments before a nomination. Trump loyalists such as Park, however, seem to be more forthcoming about their admiration for the president and their desire to represent him overseas.Immediately after the election, the presidential transition team began collecting names and winnowing a list of top contenders. (The White House did not respond to questions about the president’s selections or timetable.) So far, apart from U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, only three choices have been announced and only two officially nominated: Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad as ambassador to China and bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman as ambassador to Israel. Friedman’s Senate hearing is scheduled for Thursday, but the earliest either man is likely to be confirmed is sometime in the spring.[Trump picks Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad as ambassador to China]For ambassador to Britain, which many consider the plummiest of the plum posts, Trump has picked billionaire Robert “Woody” Johnson, owner of the New York Jets and a generous donor to the Republican Party. Trump made the announcement the day before his inauguration during a lunch for his top Cabinet picks and other advisers, casually introducing “Ambassador Woody Johnson, going to St. James” – referring to the Court of St. James’s, the formal name for the U.S. ambassador’s post in London.
Johnson, 69, originally supported Jeb Bush for president, then turned to his old friend after Bush dropped out. Johnson threw a $25,000-per-person fundraiser for Trump last summer at his East Hampton mansion, became vice chair of the Trump Victory Committee and served as a member of the inaugural leadership team. He won’t be the first NFL owner to serve as ambassador — Steelers owner Dan Rooney was posted in Ireland from 2009 to 2012 — but if confirmed, he would be in Britain while the NFL is considering an expansion team based in London. (Johnson did not respond to requests for comment.)[Trump picks Jets owner Woody Johnson as ambassador to Britain]No other names have been announced, but a few have leaked out: private equity firm founder William Hagerty is the leading candidate for Japan, and Brian Burns, a Palm Beach philanthropist and another longtime friend of Trump’s, is the front-runner for Ireland. Others unofficially in the mix: Republican National Committee finance chairman Lewis Eisenberg for Italy and Wall Street financier Duke Buchan for Spain.And there’s endless speculation, but no leading candidates have emerged for what will undoubtedly be two of the most challenging jobs: ambassadors to Mexico and Russia.Stay tuned: It may be the first time ambassadorial hearings are live-streamed around the world.Traditionally, anyone with ambassadorial ambitions raised a ton of money for their candidate during the campaign, celebrated the victory, and then acted like a duck: gliding calmly on the surface while paddling furiously underwater.Lobbying for the position was considered unseemly and unwise: Should a nomination go off the rails, there would be plausible deniability and no chance of embarrassment for all concerned. So the standard response was no comment except for “I’m delighted to be considered.”But Trump is a businessman, and his backers are less coy and more matter-of-fact about their ambitions.
One name that has been floated is Georgette Mosbacher, the colorful New York businesswoman, author, GOP fundraiser, and another longtime FOD (Friend of Donald) who freely admits that it’s her dream to add “ambassador” to her long list of titles. “I’ve always wanted to serve in that capacity,” she says.Mosbacher, 70, has been active in Republican politics since she first arrived in Washington in 1989 as the wife of Commerce Secretary Bob Mosbacher. She ran two skin-care companies, wrote a couple of motivational books, co-chaired the RNC finance committee, and serves on a number of boards. In 2015, President Barack Obama appointed her to the seven-member U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, and she was unanimously confirmed by the Senate last year.She was an early and enthusiastic supporter of Trump — although she says she didn’t raise a lot for his campaign — and just put her Fifth Avenue apartment on the market for $29.5 million. She hasn’t talked to the president about an overseas post but submitted her résumé to key staffers in the White House and made it clear that she’d like to serve.“The job description of an ambassador as I know it? I’m qualified,” she says. “I’ve submitted my résumé for a job. That’s how I look at it.”Nothing is official, and everyone serves at the pleasure of the president. But Mosbacher says the feedback she’s received from the White House is that she’s a strong candidate. “Now I just wait,” she says.Becoming an ambassador used to be a rubber-stamp process: Once the president formally nominated a candidate, Senate confirmation was almost a given. All nominees go through a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, then are confirmed by the full Senate.With a Republican majority this year, this should be pro forma — but as the Cabinet hearings have demonstrated, even an easy confirmation isn’t that easy.Career diplomats arguably have a smoother path: After they’ve worked for the State Department for two decades or so, they’re considered experienced enough to become an ambassador. If they’re interested, their names are submitted to the secretary of state for consideration; once nominated, they typically sail through hearings and are overwhelming approved by the Senate.Today’s Headlines newsletter The day’s most important stories.Political appointees first have to be selected for the post by the president and his advisers, which can often be a contentious behind-the-scenes battle. Once a name is agreed on, the country under consideration is given a heads-up and a chance to voice any objection, and the appointee goes through a vetting process involving background checks, security clearances and financial disclosures. The process takes about three months, and nominations are traditionally not announced until it’s completed.Fun fact: The State Department issues a “Certificate of Demonstrated Competence” for every nominee, explaining why the person is qualified for the job, and posts it on its website. The hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is supposed to be a coronation — lots of earnest speeches and plaudits — although it’s possible to blow it.In 2014, Obama named George Tsunis, a New York lawyer who’d raised more than $1 million for the president’s reelection, as ambassador to Norway. Tsunis’s name was withdrawn after a disastrous hearing during which he admitted that he’d never visited the country, referred to its nonexistent president, and called a major political party a “fringe element.” Norway was not amused. Norwegian Americans, who have the power to yell at their senators, were even more upset.But most will be confirmed. Then there’s ambassador school (security procedures, language training, protocol) and the move overseas. All of Obama’s political ambassadors were asked to resign on Jan. 20; every embassy is currently headed by a career diplomat serving as acting ambassador until Trump’s replacements show up sometime this summer.Until then, says Mosbacher, “I’m waiting. And hoping.”