CKE CEO Andy Puzder joined me this AM to talk about his nomination to become Secretary of labor and why he withdrew:
HH: So pleased to welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show Andy Puzder. He’s my friend. Until recently, he was the nominee of Donald Trump to be the secretary of Labor. Andy, welcome, it is great to talk to you, thank you for making this the first interview since you withdrew your nomination.
AP: Great to be here, Hugh, and thanks for all your support. You were a stalwart. I appreciate it very much.
HH: Well, I want to begin by apologizing to you for encouraging you to believe in the process. I feel like this is the second time I’ve had a friend, John Agresto, in 1986. It happened to him as well. I encouraged them to put their name forward and offer to serve, and then Washington just put you through the meat grinder, and I want to talk to you about that. Are you disillusioned?
AP: Well, I don’t know about disillusioned, I’d say well, you know, first, as we can all see, I mean, as everybody knows, the left is trying to sink as many of the President’s nominees as possible. So in that sense, it really wouldn’t have mattered what I believed or who I was or what the process was. They were going to campaign against me as a means of hurting the President. And once the hearing, once my hearing was delayed and it was delayed a number of times, they saw some Senators wavering, and the left went in full throttle. So, but more particularly, I think my problem was that the unions and the Democrats didn’t want a successful businessperson who understood what it takes to create jobs and economic growth running the Department of Labor, you know, particularly one who might actually have been successful at helping the President create jobs and generate economic growth. And personally, I don’t believe their concern was that I would be bad for workers. I think their concern was that I would pursue policies they opposed, and that workers would benefit. So the implications of that for the left would really have been devastating. And obviously, if we had economic growth and more jobs, employers would start competing with each other for employees, which would increase both wages and benefits without government mandates or coercion, which is something the unions and big government progressives really don’t want to see, because it would confirm that no matter what the mainstream media’s been telling working and middle class Americans, pro-growth economic policies are in fact in their best interest, and big government’s not. So that’s a message unions, progressives and Democrats don’t want out there. So for years, I’ve been effectively on your show and others making the case as to why government regulations kill jobs and would have, and I would have done so as secretary of Labor, which is why I think the left opposed me and engaged in this enormous campaign to wear down my support. These other issues they raised in the process, which really were the ones that ended up sinking the nomination, were really only pretextual, because, and they were totally, and in addition, they were false.
HH: That’s what drives me crazy, Andy.
AP: If I had supported this $15 dollar minimum wage, Obamacare and the overtime rules, these other issues wouldn’t even have come up, or if they did come up, they would have been laughed away. And I think everybody in Washington knows it. So I think the process is definitely defective, but you know, when there’s a campaign like this against you, it’s very tough to overcome.
HH: It is, they were very much afraid not that you would fail as Secretary of Labor, but that you would succeed as secretary of employment.
HH: Let me ask you first of all, the impact on your family. I always like to remember and remind people when one of these things happens, there’s a family around Andy Puzder, and you probably withdrew in the end, because it had to be like hell on them. But what was the impact?
AP: Well, I’d say that ultimately, I withdrew because I was told we might not, you know, if you lose three votes, you lose three Republican votes, you’re done. I hung in there until I was told that we might not have enough votes for me to go forward. And you know, I didn’t want to tilt at windmills, so at that point, I withdrew. But the pressure on my family was, it was really pretty tremendous. I mean, it was, there were a lot of things done outside of the process. For example, my payroll account at our company was hacked. Fight For 15 sent 8 to 10 demonstrators to our front door when my wife and I were sitting here one Saturday afternoon. They had a panel van that drove around our area here where we live in Tennessee with billboards on the side claiming that I was abusive to women. Obviously, that wasn’t intended to persuade Senators. There aren’t a lot of Senators in Franklin, Tennessee. But it was intended to intimidate me and my family, and you know, you have to wonder who paid for that. And then finally, although there wasn’t any coverage of this, there was an envelope left at our house addressed to my wife that had white powder in it, a pink piece of paper with Trump written on it, and you know, obviously, the white powder was in a plastic bag. But you open the envelope, and a little powder came out. And there was also, I’m told, I didn’t see it, but I was told there was a paper doll with a noose around its neck in there as well, again, addressed to my wife, not addressed to me, which shows you the cowardice of these people. We had an FBI terrorist team come to the house. We had a couple of fire engines with Hazmat teams in the neighborhood to pick up this envelope and take it in to have it analyzed. All of that, obviously, intended to intimidate my family. And you know, my wife, at one point, I told her, I actually said look, this is too much pressure on everybody. I think I should just withdraw my nomination. And she said what, let the bad guys win? I mean, she was very, very supportive. My family was very supportive.
HH: You know, that’s amazing.
AP: I had my 21 year old son who’s in college…
HH: Would you thank her for me?
AP: …when I finally did withdraw, he said dad, I have to tell you, I’m kind of glad you withdrew. This is a lot of pressure on the family, and I said well, I’m sorry, you know, I didn’t really know you were that much affected by it. And he said no, everybody in our family was affected, but we all knew you were the best man for the job, so you know, we were behind you. So yeah, there was pressure on the family, but I do feel like I stuck it out to the very end, and didn’t leave anything on the field, and my family, particularly my wife, was incredibly supportive and showed a lot of strength through the process.
HH: They’re amazing people, and I’ve met them. I met them at the elevator at one of the debates, and I just, thank them for me, and for everyone who believes in public service.
AP: Well, thanks, Hugh.
HH: You’ve got to be willing to go forward on this stuff. Let me ask you as well, I am putting Senators Murkowski and Collins in the category of people who abandoned our nominee, Andy Puzder. Are we certain about who is number three or four, because if, and are any of them up in 2018, because I believe in paybacks in politics, Andy. It’s the only way to change people’s behavior.
AP: You know, I don’t really know who was, there was a meeting of the caucus on a, I was supposed to be, I was supposed to testify at my hearing on a Thursday, and there was a meeting of the Republican Caucus on Tuesday, and I have to tell you, Senator McConnell, Leader McConnell, was spectacular, was really very strong at trying to advocate for my nomination, as was Senator Alexander and Corker, but also, you know, Ted Cruz, my friend, Ted Cruz, my friend, Mike Lee, Tom Cotton, Roy Blunt, Thom Tillis. There was a lot of support out there. Now I wish that people that were unable, you know, once you had three Senators who said you know, well, I’m not so sure that I’ll vote for this guy, once you’re at three, you can’t win. And all the other Senators know that. So any that were on the fence, any that were thinking there was some political risk to this, once they knew there were three Senators who were disinclined, would get on the bus. So I really don’t know. I, you know, really, I wish the Senators had stood with me in the face of this kind of fake news tsunami that was out there. My real hope is that this isn’t a sign of internal weakness. If it is, we need to do just what you suggested. But the President and the American people are going to need the very strong support of every Republican senator if we’re going to get anything done in this administration. And like I said, I’ve received a number of calls and emails from Republican senators expressing support, frustration and regret that we couldn’t hold our team together and get me confirmed. I just hope that’s, you know, my thing is over now. I’m hoping this isn’t a sign that there will be problems down the road when it comes to something where there’s pressure. And the left can put a lot of pressure. When you’ve got the New York Times, the Washington Post, Politico, the Huffington Post, and all the major news networks on your side, it’s very, very difficult to get your message out there, which is I think one of the reasons that President Trump is so aggressively taking on the media and pointing out what they’re doing, and I think he should, because I think that’s horrific the way they’re treating this President. And the way that they treated my nomination was very difficult.
HH: Did he offer to fight for you, Andy Puzder? Did President Trump offer to fight for you when it got towards the end?
AP: Yeah, I absolutely had the support of the administration throughout this process. I never once doubted that the Vice President and the President were on my side or willing to do what I needed to do in this. And it was completely, it was completely up to me. I actually offered to withdraw my nomination early on when some of these, this fake news started to surface, and when they were really just out and out lying about who I was and what I’d done, and where our company stood. And I was very strongly encouraged not to do so by the administration, by people that were assisting us through this process. You know, it was a hard fight, and I’d say the administration was there with me throughout, and even at the end, when I was told there might not be the votes, I was offered the option of going through the hearing, and then you know, they would continue to support me and see if we could turn the votes around. But it looked, in discussions with the leadership in the Senate and in the administration, it didn’t look like we’d be able to get those votes. But they still left it to me whether I stayed in or whether I went out. I didn’t want to tilt at windmills. I didn’t want to put any more burdens on the President’s team, but they would, the administration was with me. I had no complaints.
HH: Andy Puzder, what are you going to do now?
AP: Well, you know, I’m still CEO of CKE Restaurants. I was planning on retiring this year in any event, and it’s hard to step back after 16 years as CEO, but I’m 66 years old, and you know, we’re the young hungry guy brand, so it’s probably time for me to move on. My plan was to go into some kind of government service to repay the debt I owe this country. You know, as you and I have talked, Hugh, there has never been a country in the history of the world where a working class kid like me could aspire to the level of success I’ve achieved with any realistic chance of achieving it, and I’d like to do something to see that those kinds of opportunities survive for future working class kids, despite the current efforts on the left to destroy those opportunities. Now we’ll see what happens, but I’m going to find some way to continue supporting American workers and our free enterprise system. I wish I could have done it as Secretary of Labor, but I’ll find some way to do it. And I want to support this President, whether inside or outside the administration. I want to see that his economic agenda goes forward.
HH: Well, I hope you stay…well, two suggestions. I hope you stay at CKE long enough for me to go to Hardees and Carl’s, Jr, a thousand times, because I think Americans are mad. And I want to vote with my dollars like we did with Chick-Fil-A a few years ago.
AP: Well, thank you.
HH: I want to go to CKE, I want to go to Carl’s, Jr. I want to go to Hardees, and I want everyone to know what a great CEO you are. So they’ll probably have the best year in their existence. But thereafter, I hope you do, you know, launch a superPAC or something, because people need to know. I always said you were going to be the evangelist for opportunity in America, and you still can be the evangelists for opportunity. And when we come back from break, I want to talk about some of issues that made labor so worried. And we’ve got to, well, we don’t have a minute to the break. When we come back with Andy Puzder, okay, very quickly, Andy, you were going to talk about unfunded pension liabilities. George Will wrote about it this week. That’s what they’re really afraid of, is you were going to pull the Band-Aid off of this. We’re broke with these pensions.
AP: Yeah, particularly the multi-employer plans. The single employer plans are in better shape, but really, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation has insufficient assets to deal with a collapse of these multi-employer plans. And nobody, I don’t think anybody on any side of the aisle wants to see these multi-employer plans in a situation where they have to deny benefits to people that have earned and expect these pensions. So I think we could have gotten bipartisan support for this, and I was kind of surprised that the, during the Obama administration, they didn’t address this issue more aggressively. Now I would have wanted to get in there and find out what actually was done before it became too critical. But this is a very serious problem, and it’s going to costs taxpayers a lot of money if we don’t do something very, very quickly. There are potential solutions, but we need to implement them. We need to do more than just talk about them, which is what happened in the last administration. So it is a big problem, and we would have had to pull the Band-Aid off and get this solved. But you know, it wasn’t meant to be.
— – —
HH: Andy, I played that purposefully, My Back Pages by Bob Dylan, because it talks about learning lessons as you go along. Are you bitter about this process?
AP: I’m not bitter about it. I’d say I kind of, I feel, I would say, intense disappointment. Every time I turn on the TV and the President and his team are on there talking about how they’re reducing regulation, they’re going to shrink the size of government, they’re going to reduce taxes, they’re going to replace Obamacare, it’s, you know, I get a sinking feeling in my stomach, just because I’m, you know, I’m not involved. And I would have loved to have been involved in this. I think it’s something I was prepared to do and something I was ready to do, and could have been helpful in the administration. So I would say disappointment is the key here. But you know, really, like you and I talked about, the left’s concern here wasn’t that I would fail. Their concern was that I’d succeed. And this is a problem for the entire Trump agenda, and helps explains this, I think, rash of fake news, or the highlighting of fake news here. They want to do anything they can to cover up the possibility that rational economic policies, as opposed to bigger and bigger government, might actually be in the best interest of American people. And I would love to be out there fighting with the President to prove them wrong. I just won’t be able to do it this time.
HH: Now Andy, famously, Ray Donovan once said where do I go to get my reputation back. Your reputation was actually not harmed by this, because the more people learned about you, the greater in esteem, I mean, people came out of the woodwork for you from the American Restaurant Association, the Franchise Association. I could have had wall to wall pro-Andy Puzder every day on this radio show, and almost did, because people who know you wanted to step up for you. But what’s it say about our politics that the truth can’t punch out, that labor organized what was essentially a slander campaign 24/7 backed up by intimidation and actually threats of terrorism against you? What’s it say about politics? Did you have any idea it was this brutal? And you’re in the middle of it. You know what it’s like to run a publicly-traded company.
AP: Yeah, this was a lot more brutal than running a publicly-traded company. This was, and I really, I’m so thankful for the support I had. I had support from incredible people, from you know, prominent women, prominent executives, organizations that really, really got behind me and did, and really did a great job being supportive. It is hard to break through. I think this is one of the reasons the President is going so hard on the mainstream media, which is that you know, if you’ve got the New York Times, you know, putting front page stories about you out there, that basically contain information that if not false, is extremely misleading, and the Huffington Post and Politico, you know, with really very little regard, I think, for the truth, and then, so there are these mass media institutions that it’s very hard to break through, even with the truth, and even with a lot of support from a lot of people, which I was very privileged to have. It’s hard to break through that, and you, you know, when people, when senators go home, and there are these demonstrations and the picketing and the emails had come through based on the media misleading people, it’s very, very difficult for them to ignore. Many of them are concerned about whether they’ll be elected. They want to make sure they represent the people in their states, and it’s very difficult to break through that. I wish the people who were showing up for these Trump rallies during the election would mobilize and start doing to these town halls and being defensive of the Republican candidates and of the President’s policies to kind of offset, if not going to these, if not out there demonstrating and not going to town halls, at least emailing and calling senators that might be subject to attacks from the other side, that they try and support them. I mean, Tom Cotton did a great job the other day at a town hall on the Obamacare issue, but it would have been nice to have more people out there that were supportive of Senator Cotton. So I’m, we’re going to need to mobilize the way people mobilize for the election. We’re going to need to mobilize to offset this real push by the left to try and disguise what the President’s doing as something that’s bad for the American people and give them a chance to show, as Ronald Reagan did after a couple of years, that this really benefits all Americans, working class and middle class Americans in particular. We can get people back to work. We can get economic growth. We can’t do it with the policies on the left, but we can do it with the policies the President’s pursuing.
HH: Andy, do you think the President ought to keep up his full frontal combat, it really is verbal combat, with the press? Do you think that’s a necessary part of breaking through the barrier to truth?
AP: I wish I, you know, before I went through this process, I probably would have told you that there better ways to do it. But having been through this now, and having seen, you know, up close exactly what they will do to you, and exactly how far they’re willing to go, I’ve become a lot more supportive of the President’s approach on this than I had been before.. I’m not sure, you know, I’m a very, I’m a huge supporter of the 1st Amendment. But the 1st Amendment doesn’t just protect the press. It protects everybody, and that would include the President and the people in the administration, the people outside the administration who support the President. So it’s not just the press that’s protected here. And if this, if we need to go out there and verbalize and support the position that the media has really gone too far, and is really not being fair and honest and abiding by editorial or journalistic ethics, then that’s what we need to do. And I think the President’s doing a good job of that.
HH: Andy Puzder, thank you for your willingness to serve. Keep fighting. I’m going to go buy a CKE hamburger. I’m going to Hardees or Carl’s, Jr today and every day that I can between now and whenever you retire. Keep fighting the good fight, my friend. We admire you a lot.
End of interview.