WASHINGTON — Thomas E. Perez was confirmed as secretary of Labor on Thursday, ending a long battle over his nomination in a key test of this week’s deal to end a showdown over Senate rules.
Perez, currently the nation’s top civil rights lawyer, was confirmed by a vote of 54-46 in the Senate, the narrowest result for any of President Obama’s second-term Cabinet nominees.
Perez will become the sole Latino in the Cabinet, leading the Labor Department as Congress considers a major overhaul of immigration laws that could create millions of newly legal workers.
Obama announced Perez as his choice for the post in March to replace former California congresswoman Hilda Solis, who stepped down after four years to prepare for a possible campaign for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
Republicans mounted fierce opposition to his nomination, citing his work at the Justice Department to orchestrate a deal in which the city of St. Paul, Minn., agreed to drop a case pending before the Supreme Court that the administration believed could undermine enforcement of laws against housing discrimination. In return, federal officials agreed to drop support of a pending whistle-blower’s lawsuit against the city.
Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said before Thursday’s vote that Perez’s role amounted to “an extraordinary amount of wheeling and dealing” outside of his responsibilities as assistant attorney general for civil rights.
His confirmation stemmed from an accord between senators on Tuesday that ended a Democratic threat to change Senate filibuster rules to eliminate a minority’s ability to block executive branch nominations. The deal was put to the test Wednesday in a procedural vote, when Republicans fell just one vote shy of sustaining a filibuster.
The deal also resulted in the confirmation of Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau after a more than two-year delay. Gina McCarthy, tapped to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, could also be confirmed Thursday.