Thomas Perez’s nomination for U.S. labor secretary is running into mounting opposition from Senate Republicans, with some saying confirmation might be at risk. A committee vote on the nomination was delayed for a week.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky on the Senate floor yesterday said Perez, the Justice Department’s top civil rights lawyer, has shown a willingness to “to bend or ignore the law” in pursuit of “far-left ideology.” Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican, joined McConnell in opposition.
Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican and member of the labor committee considering the nomination, said, “there’s real trouble with the nomination” because “a lot of people don’t feel he’s been straightforward” answering questions from lawmakers. “There’s a real concern about giving him the job,” Hatch told reporters.
The maneuvering over Perez, 51, underscores Republican resistance to some Obama second-term cabinet picks, with partisan splits also possible over Hyatt Hotels Corp. (H) heiress Penny Pritzker to be secretary of commerce and Gina McCarthy to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
McConnell’s spokesman, Don Stewart, said it is clear Perez will need backing from at least 60 senators in the full Senate to get the nomination to a vote. Democrats hold 55 seats.
The Senate health and labor committee planned to vote at 4 p.m. yesterday on sending the nomination to the full Senate, until an anonymous Republican invoked a seldom-used rule barring committee meetings that begin more than two hours after the full Senate adjourns in the morning. A vote was rescheduled for May 16, the earliest date under the rule.
Panel Chairman Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, said he remains confident Perez will be confirmed.
Republicans “don’t want Mr. Perez to be secretary of labor because he is someone who knows how to get things done at the Department of Labor,” he said in an interview. “They are going to do everything they can go stop it, but he will get through.”
Perez, who would replace Hilda Solis, has clashed with Republicans over his handling of two whistle-blower lawsuits that the Justice Department declined to pursue, part of a deal where St. Paul, Minnesota, agreed to drop a case being appealed to the Supreme Court in return for the department withdrawing from a whistle-blower case. On Tuesday, a Republican-led House panel held a hearing on the cases, with Democrats decrying what they said was a partisan effort to derail Perez’s selection.
Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, top Democrat on the committee that held the hearing, yesterday joined Representative Darrell Issa of California, the committee chairman, in sending letter to Perez requesting that he provide all personal e-mails used to conduct official business that were subpoenaed by the panel last month, and respond by the end of this week.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, one of two Hispanic Republicans, said yesterday he’ll vote against Perez and Senator Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican and member of the labor committee, said he also is likely to oppose him. Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, said weeks ago he will block the confirmation in the full Senate.
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said Perez has a long record of aiding poor and middle-class Americans, and that Republicans are politicizing the confirmation.
“There has not been a case made that is not political and partisan against his nomination, and we hope and expect the Senate will move forward,” Carney said yesterday.
No Senate Republicans have publicly said they will support Perez so far, although many senators make confirmation decisions after committee action.