WASHINGTON – Tom Perez’s nomination to be secretary of Labor is headed for the full Senate after winning approval from a panel, amid ongoing opposition from Republicans.
At a brief morning session Thursday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions Committee voted 12-10 on a party-line vote to move to the Senate floor Tom Perez’s nomination to lead the Department of Labor. The vote had been repeatedly delayed at the request of Republican members who said they needed more time to obtain and analyze information about Perez’s record as the director of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice.
Monday on the Senate floor, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) lamented that “this is the week we should have been on this floor debating and voting on the confirmation of Tom Perez, but we’re not.”
“Instead, delaying tactics on this and other nominees have now needlessly, pointlessly pushed this debate into next month,” Menendez said. “…And it doesn’t stop at the Department of Labor – Republicans have refused to take up nominees at the NLRB, threatening the operation of this critical agency. It appears any agency that stands up for workers’ rights is under attack.”
Republicans have criticized Perez for making decisions guided by left-wing ideology as the head of the civil rights division. (Read “Tom Perez: What You Need To Know About the Most Radical Cabinet Nominee” at PJ Media.)
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the committee’s top Republican, said he opposed Perez’s nomination for two reasons: his actions while at the Department of Justice and his lack of cooperation with congressional committees asking him and the Obama administration to provide specific information about a personal email account Perez used to conduct official Department of Justice business.
Senate Republicans have criticized Perez for his handling of two unrelated whistleblower lawsuits that the department declined to pursue, resulting in an estimated $200 million loss for the Treasury. Republicans have been highly critical of Perez’s role in brokering a deal with the city of St. Paul, Minn. According to an investigation, Perez persuaded officials to drop a Supreme Court case that risked undermining a Justice Department theory of civil rights enforcement known as “disparate impact” – a legal theory that allows the use of statistical evidence to prove bias even without provable intent. Under the Fair Housing Act, disparate impact analysis has allowed the Obama administration to reach record settlements with banks accused of discriminatory lending.
“To preserve a favorite legal theory, Mr. Perez orchestrated a quid pro quo arrangement between the Department of Justice and the city of St. Paul in which the department agreed to drop two cases in exchange for the city withdrawing a case before the Supreme Court,” Alexander said. “This exchange cost American taxpayers the opportunity to potentially recover millions of dollars, and, more importantly, violated the trust whistleblowers place in the federal government.”
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) defended Perez and reprimanded Republicans for stalling his confirmation and failing to “produce any evidence that calls into question his ability to fairly enforce the law as it is written…or his ability to lead the Department of Labor.”
Perez’s nomination has been before the Senate committee since March. Harkin called Republican opposition to Perez’s confirmation “pointless obstructionism.” Alexander countered that Perez’s nomination has been before the Senate for 60 days, which seems a reasonable time to the senator compared to previous cabinet nominations by previous administrations.
“As our economy continues to recover, we need a dynamic leader at the helm of the Department of Labor who will embrace a bold vision of shared prosperity,” said Harkin.
Republicans again raised concerns about Perez’s communications by email with a New York Times reporter in 2011, the night before the Justice Department announced a major settlement with a lending firm. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said Perez had disclosed non-public information that could potentially move markets. The senator called Perez’s actions unethical and inappropriate.
Harkin answered that, by the time the reporter and Perez had exchanged emails, the Justice Department’s public affairs office had already informed journalists that an announcement would be made the next day. “Mr. Perez did not provide or communicate to the reporter any subsequent information about the content of the settlement or any other detail,” Harkin said.
Attorney General Eric Holder told leaders of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that Perez deserves praise for bringing a record number of cases alleging voting rights violations and police misconduct. Holder defended Perez’s tenure as head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and said he would make a great secretary of Labor.
Holder also addressed the criticism about some of Perez’s actions as assistant attorney general and allegations that he politicized enforcement of civil rights laws. PJ Media’s J. Christian Adams, who worked for Perez at the Department of Justice’s civil rights division, recently testified about the several instances of hostility towards race-neutral law enforcement by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
“There had been some indications that people in the Voting Section, in particular, have not gotten along with each other too well. There were a number of incidents, the majority of which were in the prior administration, that I think are not really good examples of how DOJ employees are supposed to work with one another,” said Holder. “But I think if you look at Tom’s record, he has done what we expect of a person who would head the Civil Rights Division, which I think is the conscience of the Justice Department. He’s done an outstanding job and deserves to be confirmed as secretary of Labor.”
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) held a conference call shortly after the Senate committee vote along with Maryland business leaders in support of Perez’s nomination.
“I’ve looked at every one of the attacks brought against Tom Perez and I must tell you they are without merit,” said Cardin. “There has been a total independent review in all of the areas and there is no basis for [the attacks].”
Cardin also said Perez is entitled to an up or down vote in the Senate, citing his outstanding qualifications for the position. Perez is likely to need 60 votes in the Senate to get past Republican opposition.