Raul A. Reyes: Acosta does not have much in common with Trump's first pick for Labor -- and that's a good thing
It remains to be seen whether he can bring some integrity to this flailing, chaotic administration, he writes
Editor’s Note: Raul A. Reyes, an attorney and member of the USA Today board of contributors, writes frequently for CNN Opinion. The views expressed here are solely his.
On Thursday, President Donald Trump held a bizarre news conference in which he railed against the media, Senate Democrats, and the intelligence community. He insisted his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, had done nothing wrong. He falsely asserted that he had “the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan.” Oh, and he named his new nominee for secretary of labor, Alexander Acosta. That was supposedly his reason for holding the press conference, yet it took only a few sentences out of about 80 minutes.
Acosta, who is dean of Florida International University College of Law, may be one of the most solid of any of the nominees for Trump’s Cabinet. He would also be the first Latino, and is certainly qualified for the job. The only question is: Why would Acosta want to join Trump’s team?
Acosta does not have very much in common with Trump’s first pick for Labor – and that’s a good thing. Acosta comes to his potential post with strong credentials. He is a graduate of Harvard. He has experience in the public sector, having served in the Department of Justice Civil Rights division. He served on the National Labor Relations Board.
This resume alone puts him head and shoulders above most of Trump’s Cabinet choices, who often had little knowledge of their respective fields (Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos) or who seem to be at odds with the goals of the agencies they are slated to run (Attorney General Jeff Sessions has a poor record on civil rights). Acosta has even defended the rights of Muslim Americans to wear headscarves.
Most importantly, Acosta has already been through the confirmation process three times, so it is unlikely that his nomination will be doomed by such revelations as the allegations of domestic abuse against Puzder. Acosta is a safe and thoughtful pick; so much so that it is surprising Trump did not choose him first.
The only possible reason that Acosta was not Trump’s first draft – his heritage – is now shaping up to be one of his strongest assets. The son of Cuban immigrants, Acosta will bring a much-needed Latino perspective to Trump’s inner circle.
Yet given Trump’s apparent disdain for Latinos, Acosta’s tenure will likely be fraught with risk. Consider that Trump barely spoke of Acosta at the news conference that was ostensibly to announce his nomination. In fact, Trump mentioned Hillary Clinton more than he mentioned Acosta.
In another oddly revealing moment, Trump said that before approving Acosta, he (Trump) had to make sure he was not related to CNN Senior White House Correspondent Jim Acosta – suggesting either hostility to the press, the idea that all Latinos are alike, or some combination of these two misguided ideas. With Trump’s documented history of antipathy toward Latinos, from calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” to questioning the integrity of a Mexican-American federal judge, it was unwise for the President to joke about looking into the Acosta “family tree.”
On the positive side, Alexander Acosta does not have any particularly scandalous or partisan positions in his personal history. He has won support from a range of Latino advocacy groups, both now and in the past.
The US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce called him an “outstanding choice” for labor secretary. The Hispanic National Bar Association congratulated Acosta on his nomination, noting that he “understands that our nation’s diversity is our strength.”
Back when he was named to head the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, the National Council of La Raza called him a “bridge-builder” and “someone who will listen and act in a fair manner.” With his strong labor and education background and potential support from Latino civic groups, Acosta’s nomination could put Democratic senators in the awkward position of voting against a qualified Hispanic nominee – to show their opposition to Trump.
True, Acosta is not perfect. His time at Justice was marked by a politicization of the Civil Rights Division. In 2007, McClatchy DC reported that, while serving as assistant attorney general, Acosta did not take issue with Ohio Republicans challenging 23,000 predominantly African-American voter registrations. We do not know his views on equal pay for equal work, or raising the minimum wage. And he is apparently willing to step into an administration that is widely viewed as hostile to Latinos and immigrants – not to mention truth itself.
There is no doubt that Acosta will be of service to Trump and the country. He will be an important voice for Latinos in the Cabinet. It remains to be seen, however, whether he can bring some integrity to this flailing, chaotic administration.