Trump’s Labor Mulligan

Alex Acosta is a conservative whom liberals can support.


Alexander Acosta in 2006.


President Trump doesn’t have political capital to spare, so it’s good his new Labor nominee Alexander Acosta shouldn’t need much to be confirmed. The former U.S. prosecutor has been confirmed by the Senate three times and has a solid record that could even win Democratic votes.

The President highlighted Mr. Acosta’s credentials at his press conference Thursday, including an eight-month stint on the National Labor Relations Board and seven years as an attorney in the Justice Department. Since 2009 he has been dean of Florida International University College of Law, which offers a special program for foreign students.

As the son of Cuban immigrants, Mr. Acosta is Mr. Trump’s first Hispanic cabinet member. He backed an executive order by Bill Clinton to make federally funded public services more accessible to non-native English speakers. He also promoted an initiative by George W. Bush to translate government information into Spanish and served on the board of an organization that taught English to immigrants. 

His advocacy for immigrants earned him the endorsement of the liberal National Council of La Raza and the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in 2003. That job can be a trap for conservatives, but Mr. Acosta used it to prosecute human trafficking, housing discrimination, redlining and police brutality. As U.S. Attorney in Southern Florida from 2005 to 2009, he prosecuted tax evasion, corruption, fraudulent mortgage lending and Medicare scams.

Mr. Acosta’s brief term on the National Labor Relations Board was unremarkable, though in one notable case he held that Wal-Mart did not attempt to influence a union election by helping workers too much. Unions had argued that relieving work problems constituted an unfair labor practice.

The nominee’s biggest liability is that he’s less experienced in the most contentious labor issues of the day such as joint-employer and contracting relationships and guest-worker visas. The Labor Department’s most important job is to promote a flexible, skilled workforce, and Mr. Acosta will be under pressure from the restrictionist right and unions to limit legal immigration under the pretext of helping low-income workers.

But the evidence is scant that immigrants take jobs from U.S. workers, and if the economy keeps growing Mr. Acosta may find his biggest issue will be a labor shortage. The mismatch between jobs and worker skills is growing around the country, and the Western Growers Association tells us that farm-worker crews are running 20% short on average.

Liberals have supported Mr. Acosta in the past, so it will be telling if they try to defeat him now merely out of spite for Mr. Trump.

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