President Barack Obama’s choice to lead the Labor Department cleared the first step in the confirmation process after members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee voted along party lines to approve Thomas Perez as the next secretary of labor.
The vote was held during a quick executive session May 16, 2013.
Perez’s nomination now heads to the full Senate for consideration.
“I am pleased that the committee has approved Mr. Perez’s nomination, and now the time has come for the full Senate to have an up-or-down vote on this nomination,” said committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
Perez said at his confirmation hearing that his top goals would be job creation and enforcement of wage and hour and safety laws.
If confirmed, Perez would play a leading role in implementing Obama’s labor agenda, which includes reforming the nation’s immigration system and raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour.
Republican committee members had asked for the vote to be postponed so they could examine Perez’s record as the head of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice. Specifically, they have claimed that Perez played a role in a quid pro quo arrangement between Justice and the city of St. Paul, Minn., in which the department agreed to drop two lawsuits in exchange for the city’s withdrawing a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that challenged the use of statistics as evidence of race discrimination. Republicans allege that Perez and others at the Justice Department thought the case might undermine the disparate-impact theory in civil rights enforcement.
Perez denied that he was personally involved in the decision not to sue St. Paul but acknowledged that he supported the city’s decision to withdraw its Supreme Court challenge, saying it was in the best interest of the nation.
“Mr. Perez’s involvement in this whole deal seems to me an extraordinary amount of wheeling and dealing outside [his] normal responsibilities,” ranking member Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., observed. “This exchange cost American taxpayers the opportunity to potentially recover millions of dollars and, more importantly, violated the trust whistle-blowers place in the federal government,” he said, referring to a False Claims Act lawsuit that a whistle-blower brought against St. Paul.
Republicans have said they will block Perez’s confirmation in the full Senate, necessitating the support of 60 senators to advance it to a final vote. Democrats control 55 of the Senate’s 100 seats.
Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
Follow him @SHRMRoy
Obama Labor Pick Questioned over Past Record, HR News, April 2013
Mixed Reaction to Perez Could Signal Contentious Confirmation, HR News, March 2013