The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved Eugene Scalia's nomination as secretary of labor in a party-line vote Tuesday.
Each of the committee's 12 Republicans voted in favor of the nomination while its 11 Democrats dissented.
Mr. Scalia, a partner at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher and son of late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, has history at the Labor Department. He previously served as solicitor — the legal officer responsible for all department litigation and legal advice on rule-making and administrative law — during President George W. Bush's administration.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the committee, said Mr. Scalia is well qualified to lead the Labor Department. "Businesses and workers need a secretary of labor who will steer the department with a steady hand, and I believe Mr. Scalia can do so," Mr. Alexander said.
Democrats on the committee said Mr. Scalia's experience in the private sector indicates he will not put workers' interests first as labor secretary. "Mr. Scalia's career as an elite corporate lawyer prepares him to be the exact opposite of what workers need today in a secretary of labor," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the committee's ranking member.
Mr. Scalia was part of a Gibson Dunn team representing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, and other associations in successful challenges to the fiduciary rule, including during oral arguments before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
The Labor Department is expected to issue a new fiduciary rule in the coming months. When asked at a hearing on Sept. 19 whether he would recuse himself from the upcoming rule-making, Mr. Scalia said he would "seek guidance from the designated agency ethics official at the Department of Labor regarding what my ability to participate would be."
Following the resignation of Alexander Acosta in July, Patrick Pizzella, the deputy secretary, has served as acting secretary. He will remain in that role until Mr. Scalia is confirmed by the Senate.
Mr. Scalia's nomination will now head to the full Senate. A vote has yet to be scheduled.