The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Thursday advanced the nominations of Miguel Cardona to be Education secretary by a vote of 17-5, and Martin J. Walsh to be Labor secretary, 18-4.
If confirmed by the full Senate, both would face immediate challenges in their respective roles, with schools across the country closed and millions of workers unemployed.
“Given the urgency of the pandemic and of the clear qualifications of these nominees, I urge all of my colleagues to vote to advance the nominations,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the panel’s chairwoman.
Cardona, a former teacher, principal and superintendent from Meriden, Conn., has pledged to advance President Joe Biden's goal to reopen the majority of K-8 schools in the first 100 days of his presidency.
Democrats and Republicans alike want to see schools open, but Democrats have argued that significantly more resources are necessary to do so safely. The COVID-19 relief package moving through Congress under reconciliation procedures would provide nearly $170 billion in aid to schools.
Cardona “stressed the need of students to get back in school, and that’s now finally a bipartisan mission,” said ranking member Richard M. Burr, R-N.C.
As Connecticut’s Education commissioner, Cardona sought to keep classrooms open to the extent possible, allowing districts to choose whether or not to remain open.
“There is no substitute for a classroom experience for our students,” he said at his confirmation hearing.
At the hearing, Republicans pressed Cardona on school reopening, vaccinations for private school teachers, and the participation of transgender students in athletics, among other topics.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who would be the first union member in decades to serve as Labor secretary, also earned the committee’s approval.
“Mayor Walsh has the background, the skills, and awareness of the needs for balance of conversations between labor and management,” Burr said.
At his confirmation hearing, Walsh emphasized the Biden administration’s plan to “build back better” after the coronavirus pandemic with new high-technology jobs.
“We need to continue to strengthen the American worker,” he said. “People have different opinions of unions, business and corporations, and I see my role as secretary of Labor as bringing different thought processes together to bring greater understanding and support.”
Senate Republicans questioned Walsh on the Biden administration’s policies for energy and minimum wage hikes. All but four — Paul, Braun, Scott and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., voted to advance his nomination.