The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee voted to send President Barack Obama’s controversial nominee for labor secretary to the full Senate on Thursday morning.
Tom Perez, who now heads the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, passed out of committee along a party line vote, 12-10.
Committee Chairman Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) championed Perez through the process and accused the GOP of “pointless obstructionism” for twice delaying the committee vote.
“Mr. Perez has been as open and aboveboard as he could possibly be with this committee,” he said. “Mr. Perez did his job at DOJ, and he did it well.”
Republicans delayed the vote after Perez failed to comply with a House oversight investigation into his use of private email addresses to conduct government business. His refusal led ranking Oversight Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings (D., Md.) to join Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) in calling for Perez to turn over the emails.
Ranking Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) issued a blistering opening statement explaining his opposition. He accused Perez of “wheeling and dealing … in a way that is inappropriate for an assistant attorney general.”
“My review of his record has raised troubling questions,” he said. “I believe it’s premature (to move forward).”
Perez faces a tough confirmation process even with committee approval. Several Republicans, including Sen. David Vitter (R., La.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), have vowed to oppose the nomination, citing several controversial decisions Perez made while at the DOJ.
The Oversight Committee released a report in April alleging that Perez had orchestrated a quid pro quo with St. Paul, Minn., to protect a dubious legal doctrine that makes it easier to sue for racial discrimination. Emails revealed that Perez considered this a “top priority” and urged career attorneys to withdraw support from a $200 million whistleblower suit against the city.
Perez told the committee that the whistleblower suit lacked merit and that the city, rather than the DOJ, was responsible for the deal.
“Bad facts make bad law,” he said in a contentious April committee hearing.
He has also faced criticism for his handling of racial issues at the DOJ. A March inspector general report revealed Perez asserted that civil rights protections did not cover white voters. His approach to racial issues alienated some career DOJ attorneys.
He is the “most extreme cabinet nominee in 70 years,” DOJ whistleblower J. Christian Adams told the Washington Free Beacon in March.
Adams resigned his position with the Civil Rights Division after the office withdrew voter intimidation charges against two members of the New Black Panther Party who brandished weapons outside of a Philadelphia polling place in 2008.
Perez will be Obama’s sole Latino cabinet member if confirmed. Hispanic and union activists pressured lawmakers to pass him through “without delay” at a Wednesday afternoon press conference.
Perez’s nomination will move to the full Senate sometime in the next few months.