WASHINGTON – Thomas Perez, President Obama’s pick for secretary of Labor, faced sharp criticism from Republican senators during his confirmation hearing because of his role in a housing-discrimination case and management style during his time at the Department of Justice.
Perez, who previously won the nomination to his current position as assistant attorney general for the civil rights division at the DoJ after Republicans dragged out the process for six months, faced the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on Thursday.
Perez told the committee his top priority would be “jobs, jobs, and jobs” and that he believes the Department of Labor could play a critical role in getting Americans back to work.
During the hearing, GOP senators questioned Perez on various issues, including voter identification laws and the St. Paul housing discrimination case. Many Republican senators tried to portray the record of Perez at the Department of Justice as politically biased.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) complained that the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under Perez had unfairly targeted South Carolina over the voter identification law the state sought to implement last year. Scott said the Department of Justice had been unfair and politically motivated.
“As I look at your management style, it seems to have a political perspective, a political bias…it seems not to be open, not to be balanced, and certainly not to be fair,” said Scott. “Is there in fact the ability to have an open and fair approach in the Department of Labor when, in fact, it seems like it’s been a politically charged environment in the Department of Justice?”
Perez replied by defending his management practices, saying that he has always had a style that is “inclusive, open, and balanced.” He also noted that a judge appointed by President George W. Bush called “understandable” the Department of Justice’s concerns about the voter identification law in South Carolina.
Republican lawmakers sharply criticized Perez in a report released Sunday over what they said was a questionable deal he brokered while serving as the chief of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.
In the 63-page report, which took months of investigation, the GOP lawmakers accuse Perez of misusing his power last year to persuade the city of St. Paul, Minn., to withdraw a housing discrimination case before it could be heard by the Supreme Court. In exchange, the Department of Justice agreed not to intervene in two whistleblower cases against St. Paul that could have won up to $200 million for taxpayers.
“This offer was inappropriate and potentially violated Perez’s duty of loyalty to his client, the United States,” said the report from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), California Rep. Darrell Issa (R), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Perez pledged to the senators that he would have an open mind in the role and work with business and labor to create jobs.
“The [Department of Labor] must continue to perform its critical tasks of ensuring a safe and equal opportunity workplace. Job safety and job growth are not mutually exclusive, and it is not necessary to choose between jobs and job safety,” said Perez.
“I share President Obama’s vision of a growing economy powered by a rising middle class, with ladders of opportunity available to everyone,” he continued.
Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the committee’s top Republican, questioned Perez on his decision to get involved in the St. Paul deal.
“You see St. Paul heading toward the Supreme Court with a case that you think will present the wrong result. You get involved. And the end result is the DOJ declines to become involved in a whistleblower case. The case doesn’t collect the money…it seems that you’re manipulating the law to get the result you want,” Alexander said.