Perez replied that he followed the advice and counsel of career attorneys in the Justice Department to handle the case. He also reminded the Republican senators that he has worked under Republican administrations — first under Ronald Reagan and then George H.W. Bush.
“We received ethics and civil responsibility guidance,” and the decision was “entirely appropriate” and “in the interest of justice,” he said.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) also accused Perez of having used his personal e-mail account to disclose “non-public information” about settlements of major Justice Department cases to a New York Times reporter.
“Is it appropriate or ethical to release non-public information especially when that information could move equity markets?” Burr asked.
Other Republican senators focused on less peripheral issues and asked him questions concerning his potential role as secretary of Labor. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) asked questions about the job corps program — a federal program offering vocational training for economically disadvantaged youth — and regulations issued by the Department of Labor that may harm small-business owners.
Democrats were more positive in their evaluation of Perez’s record, presenting him as a champion of civil rights. Many of their questions seemed perfunctory and put forward only to highlight Perez’s qualifications for the job.
“His professional experience gives me confidence that he has the leadership skills, management experience, and policy expertise to be an effective secretary of Labor,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
“And, he has what is perhaps the best credential to lead a labor agency – namely the fact that he has done it before,” he continued.
The Democrats praised Perez for his work during his tenure as secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor. In particular, they focused on his efforts to establish public-private partnerships to help job growth in that state.
Some Republicans remain skeptical of Perez’s record. Republican Committee Study Chairman Steve Scalise (La.) and 42 House Republicans sent a letter to the Senate shortly after the hearing in opposition to Perez’s nomination.
“Thomas Perez has a long and alarming track record of ignoring the law when it suits his radical agenda, and he is entirely unfit to assume the power and responsibility that comes with a cabinet level post as the Secretary of the Department of Labor,” Scalise said.
The Senate Committee will meet Thursday in a closed session for further discussion of the Perez nomination. His confirmation is expected to move to the full Senate for a confirmation vote.