WASHINGTON — It’s been more than a month since Attorney General Eric Holder announced his resignation, vowing to stay in office until his successor is confirmed.
That nominee hasn’t been named. But days before critical midterm elections for the president’s party, a lobbying bloc in Congress has made clear its pick for the job.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has had President Obama’s ear to an extent, meeting every few months with the commander in chief behind closed doors to strategize on immigration reform. The caucus has “long advocated for the use of executive action to bring immigrants out of the shadows,” as noted by Chairman Rubén Hinojosa (D-Texas) in a June statement.
This week, Hinojosa announced that the caucus “proudly endorses Secretary Tom Perez to serve as the next Attorney General of the United States.”
The Labor secretary, who led the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department from 2009 to 2013, “has a proven record of championing and defending the rights of all Americans.”
“The CHC supported Tom Perez in his nomination to the Department of Labor, and the Caucus will continue to support him if he is formally nominated for the position of U.S. Attorney General. We hope Secretary Perez will be the president’s nominee of choice to head the Department of Justice,” Hinojosa said in a statement.
Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), who leads the caucus’ Diversity Task Force, said Perez “has demonstrated a deep commitment to justice and civil rights.”
“As a dedicated public servant, he has stood up for working families and advocated for the rights of all Americans – especially the most vulnerable,” Luján said. “Secretary Perez’s significant record of accomplishment throughout his career and during his time as Assistant Attorney General reflects the values he would bring to the Department of Justice and instills the utmost confidence in his ability to serve as Attorney General.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest publicly responded to the endorsement by telling reporters Tuesday, “I don’t know that the president has consulted any members of Congress about the decision that lies ahead.”
“There’s no doubt that Secretary Perez has distinguished himself as a particularly effective member of the president’s Cabinet. He did a tour at the Department of Justice prior to serving as secretary of Labor. He continues to do very good work there,” Earnest said. “But as it relates to any sort of personnel announcements in the Department of Justice, I don’t have anything for you at this point.”
Perez wants the job, and the field of competition got smaller last week when former White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler withdrew her name from consideration.
Earnest was asked whether that was tied to a recent Washington Post report about the White House’s handling of a Colombia prostitution scandal. “I haven’t talked to her about the decision that she made in terms of her announcement, but I’d be surprised if that contributed to it in any way,” he replied.
Perez and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who argued the administration’s Obamacare constitutionality case before the Supreme Court, remain on a short list.
Holder removed any ambiguity about the administration’s timetable at the Washington Ideas Forum today.
“There’ll be a nomination shortly after the election,” he said. “My hope would be that the Senate would take up that nomination in the same — about the same way that mine was, so that by early February we’d have a new attorney general.”
Earnest said “the president does not anticipate nominating someone prior to the election, but that we would expect that whoever that nominee is will be someone who will deserve prompt consideration by the United States Senate and prompt bipartisan confirmation by the United States Senate.”
“And we have not been any more clear about that process than that,” he added.
Earnest continued, saying, “The door does continue to be open to the possibility that this individual could be nominated shortly after the election and that we would seek the Senate to — or we would call on the Senate to act quickly to consider that nominee promptly.”
“And we will do so knowing that we believe firmly that individual is worthy of the kind of bipartisan support that’s necessary to confirm an attorney nominee.”
The press secretary then pointed out a lame-duck nomination “strategy that was pursued by the previous administration,” namely the nomination of Robert Gates to succeed Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of Defense in 2006.
Perez was asked at the National Press Club on Oct. 20 if he would continue Holder’s promise to not jail journalists for protecting their sources — such as federal prosecutors’ demands that New York Times reporter James Risen reveal information beyond what he wrote in his book State of War, which describes CIA mishandling of Iran’s nuclear drive.
“My singular focus is on the job of being at the Department of Labor,” Perez replied.
“And I know the attorney general very much values the role of the press as the fourth branch of government,” he continued. “Remember, he served as the deputy attorney general under Janet Reno and often participated with her in her weekly conferences, whether it was — there was good news, bad news, or indifferent, she was out there and he was often there with her in those press briefings because he understands the critical importance of the press in so many aspects of our life.”
Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), a senior member of the Hispanic Caucus, said today that Perez is “the perfect candidate.”
“In recent years, he has been instrumental in the president’s efforts to protect Americans’ civil and voting rights and help working families as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights and as secretary of Labor. In these two positions, he has clearly demonstrated the that he is capable of leading the Department of Justice,” Serrano argued.
“I have no doubt Tom Perez would be an excellent attorney general, who would work tirelessly for fairness and justice for all Americans.”
Obama addressed the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute gala at the beginning of this month, where he vowed to “act to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own.”
“This is not a question of if, but when. Because the moment I act — and it will be taking place between the November elections and the end of the year — opponents of reform will roll out the same old scare tactics. They’ll use whatever excuse they have to try to block any attempt at immigration reform at all,” Obama said. “And we have to be realistic: For any action to last, for it to be effective and extend beyond my administration — because I’m only here two more years — we’re going to have to build more support of the American people so that it is sustainable and lasting.”