If Walsh takes the job, he would be the second member of the president’s cabinet to leave the Biden administration after Eric Lander, who resigned as Biden’s top science adviser in February 2022 after POLITICO first reported allegations that he intimidated his subordinates in the Office of Science and Technology. Technology Policy. Biden had elevated that position to the Cabinet level, making Walsh the first traditional Cabinet official to potentially leave.
Walsh’s departure would also possibly come amid other major changes to the administrative staff. Chief of Staff Ron Klain is set to hand over his duties to Jeff Zients, ushering in a new chapter for a White House still buoyed by better-than-expected midterm results for Democrats, but now forced to to tangle with a Republican-controlled House.
Walsh’s name was freely discussed as a possible successor to Klain, although the labor secretary maintains his residence in Massachusetts and stays at a hotel when in DC.
The former Boston mayor has also been regularly talked about as a future candidate for office in Massachusetts, though his electoral options at home appear limited for the near future. He dropped out of running for the open state governorship last year, unwilling to run in a primary against the Democratic heir apparent, the now-governor. Maura Healey. And Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) have pledged to seek re-election for their Senate seats in 2024 and 2026, respectively.
Going to the NHLPA, instead, would mark a return to organized work for Walsh, who previously led the Building and Construction Trades Council in Boston before entering electoral politics and becoming the city’s mayor in 2014.
As Secretary of Labor, Walsh frequently served as a key surrogate in the Biden administration, particularly as a go-between with unions and the business community. That included being aware of the ongoing stalemate between West Coast dockworkers and port operators, as well as taking part in last year’s Major League Baseball lockout.
Biden selected Walsh to lead the DOL in part because of his ties to the labor movement, as well as his personal bond: In public appearances, Biden often mocks Walsh for his no-frills Boston accent.
The White House credited Walsh for his work overseeing negotiations last year that threatened to halt the nation’s freight rail system. However, several of the unions involved in those discussions later rejected their tentative deals, prompting Biden in December to seek help from Congress and impose contract terms on the industry to keep the system in line.
In his first months as secretary, Walsh also visited striking Kellogg workers on a picket line in Pennsylvania, drawing howls from Republicans that it was an inappropriate use of his position.
The Labor Department’s inspector general investigated Kellogg’s visit and some of Walsh’s other interactions with unions and found no ethics violations, though House Education and Workforce Chair Virginia Foxx vowed to continue looking into the matter.
In addition to his record in labor disputes, Walsh also oversaw a series of regulatory changes at the DOL aimed at undoing Trump-era policies.
That includes a just-finalized rule allowing retirement planners greater flexibility to factor ESG metrics into their investment decisions, overseeing the Biden administration’s attempt to impose a vaccination or testing mandate, much of which was blocked by the Supreme Court, and other Covid-era measures.
Walsh’s close associates appeared to be in the dark about the NHLPA talks when word got out Wednesday afternoon. But at least one wasn’t surprised by the potential development, given his history of labor relations and his love of hockey.
Walsh is a lifelong Boston Bruins fan. But he also has a darker history tied to the sport. Walsh, a recovering alcoholic, has spoken openly about getting kicked out of a Bruins game in the 1990s for being too drunk, part of a series of events that led him to seek help for his addiction.
If Walsh were to accept the players’ association gig, the former Boston mayor would follow his close friend, former Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, into the world of sports executives. Baker takes office as NCAA president in March.
Eleanor Mueller and Sam Stein contributed to this reporting.