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Marty Walsh Confirmed As U.S. Labor Secretary05:55
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Boston Mayor Marty Walsh speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on his nomination to be labor secretary on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (Mandel Ngan/AP)
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on his nomination to be labor secretary on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (Mandel Ngan/AP)

The U.S. Senate has confirmed Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as U.S. secretary of labor by a vote of 68-29.

Walsh, a former union leader who has been mayor of Boston since 2014, will be the first union member to serve as secretary of labor in nearly half a century. In his new role, he will be charged with helping to oversee federal rules designed to protect more than 150 million workers across the country.

Speaking after the vote Monday evening, Walsh said he was committed to helping the Biden administration "building an economy that works for every single American.

"I spent my entire career fighting for working people, and I'm eager to continue that fight in Washington," he said.

Walsh also said he would resign at 9 p.m. Monday, at which point Boston City Council President Kim Janey becomes acting mayor. She would be the first woman and first person of color to lead the city in its history.

"I was texting with Council President Janey last night. I texted, 'Think about this for a minute, a little girl from Roxbury is About to be mayor of Boston.' " Walsh said. "And her response was, 'Think about this for a minute, a little boy from Dorchester is about to become the ... labor secretary of the United States of America.' "

Five candidates have already launched campaigns to succeed Walsh, including three city councilors — Andrea Campbell, Michelle Wu and Anissa Essaibi George, the city's former chief of economic development John Barros and state Rep. Jon Santiago. Janey, who will be the first woman and the first Black person to serve as the city’s mayor, has not said whether she plans to join the race.

President Biden has previously said he considered asking Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to be his labor secretary, but didn't want to risk losing a vote in the Senate. So he picked Walsh, who he called "a good friend and a stand-up guy" who always puts working people first.

"Marty understands like I do that the middle class built this country, and unions built the middle class," Biden said in early January, when he announced his selection of Walsh to join his cabinet.

Walsh, 53, a former labor leader from Dorchester, helps Biden keep his promise to be the most pro-union president ever.

"Now we have the opportunity to put power back in the hands of working people all across this country," said Walsh, who turns 54 on April 10. He pledged to fight for policies to strengthen unions and help working families.

Walsh's confirmation by the Senate came later than expected because of an unusually busy period in Washington, which included the second impeachment of former President Trump for allegedly inciting the Capitol riot of Jan. 6, and a Senate trial that ultimately acquitted him. Washington lawmakers have also been preoccupied with a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, which President Biden signed into law earlier this month -- a major legislative victory for the new administration.

Walsh assumes the helm of the Labor Department at a challenging moment, with tens of millions of Americans out of work as a result of the pandemic. He will spearhead Biden's labor agenda and response to the pandemic, which will include efforts to unwind many of the Trump administration's policies.

"After four years of a Trump Labor Department that did its best to undermine workers, Marty will be a secretary of labor who actually supports labor," said Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, as she introduced Walsh at the start of his Senate hearing before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Warren called Walsh "a good man" and praised his record as mayor. She cited his push for a $15 minimum wage, his steady response to the pandemic, and his work to establish an office of equity and diversity for the city of Boston.

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During his confirmation hearing, Republicans were cordial to Walsh.

"Tom Brady has proven that a Massachusetts guy can hop on I-95, go south and do good things," said Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the ranking Republican on the committee.

Others, like Sen. Roger Marshal, a Republican from Kansas, gently chided the mayor and the Biden administration for pushing liberal policies, including an effort to more than double the national minimum wage.

"If you want $15 an hour [minimum wage] in Boston, knock your socks off," Marshal said. "But in [my state] that would be a pretty big job-killing wage."

Walsh said Biden remains supportive of hiking the minimum wage. But even as he promised to expand the rights of working Americans, Walsh pledged to advance the American economy.

"The American people are made of workers, of businesses, of industry," Walsh told the senators. "If we advance the American worker, we're advancing the American economy."

In the end, Walsh attracted bipartisan support, with the committee voting 18-4 to his advance his nomination to the full Senate, which paved the way for his easy confirmation on Monday.

Walsh becomes labor secretary following a difficult year leading Boston through the pandemic. The disease has claimed the lives of more than 1,200 Boston residents while delivering a gut punch to the local economy.

In his final State of the City address this past January, Walsh called Boston "a city aching with loss." But he commended the doctors, nurses, EMTs and other frontline workers as "heroes."

Walsh also hailed investments in green jobs, new parks, schools and affordable housing, which he said have prepared Boston to bounce back in 2021.

"We may be hurting, but the state of our city is resilient," Walsh said. "The state of our city is united. The state of our city is hopeful. And the state of our city is deep, down Boston strong."

Near the end of what would be his last annual address, Walsh choked up as he talked of leaving his hometown to become Secretary of Labor. But, he said, "I'm not going alone. I'm bringing Boston with me."

This segment aired on March 22, 2021.

Related:

Anthony Brooks Twitter Senior Political Reporter
Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.

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