President Joe Biden will nominate Julie Su to serve as labor secretary, the White House confirmed on Tuesday, which would make her the first Asian American to serve in a secretary-level role in Biden’s Cabinet.
Su, who has served as the deputy labor secretary since 2021, would replace Marty Walsh, who is departing the administration next month for a job atop the National Hockey League Players Association.
The swift effort to nominate Su to replace Walsh – the first Cabinet secretary to leave the Biden administration – comes at a crucial moment for the American economy and workforce. If confirmed to lead the agency, Su will serve as an essential messenger for the administration’s efforts to stabilize the economy and strengthen labor rights as the country continues to grapple with recession fears.
Biden in a statement called Su “a tested and experienced leader, who will continue to build a stronger, more resilient, and more inclusive economy that provides Americans a fair return for their work and an equal chance to get ahead.”
“I look forward to continuing to work with Julie to build an economy that works for working people, and I respectfully ask the Senate to take up this nomination quickly so that we can finish the job for America’s workers,” the president added.
In a statement, Vice President Kamala Harris called Su “a longtime advocate for workers – first in my home state of California, and now as a leader in the Biden-Harris Administration.” Harris added that Su “understands that the future of our economy depends on building a well-trained and inclusive workforce.”
Long considered the front-runner for the job, Su had been endorsed by the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. The National Education Association, the country’s largest labor union, also urged the president to nominate Su to the role.
The Department of Labor describes her current deputy role as serving “as the de-facto chief operating officer for the department, overseeing its workforce, managing its budget and executing the priorities of the secretary of labor.”
Prior to joining the Biden administration, Su was the secretary for the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency and the state’s labor commissioner. Su was the litigation director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles. She’s also the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, gaining national recognition for her expertise in workers’ rights and civil rights.
Su has long faced scrutiny for California’s handling of unemployment benefits during the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly her oversight of the state’s Employment Development Department. During the pandemic, the department, one of the offices under her purview, delayed approving unemployment benefits and paid out billions on fraudulent claims. Su has said EDD’s systems were not prepared for the number of unemployment claims made.
The White House is defending Su’s approach to the distribution of pandemic benefits in California.
“Look, when the pandemic hit, red and blue states were dealing with fragile, outdated technology. And under Julie Su’s leadership, California took important steps to process a historic nubmer claims – one in five in the entire nations,” White House principal deputy press secretary Olivia Dalton told reporters on Tuesday.
This story has been updated with additional reporting.