Obama to name civil-rights official Thomas Perez as Labor secretary

WASHINGTON – President Obama intends to nominate career civil-rights attorney Thomas Perez as secretary of Labor, people familiar with the deliberations confirmed Sunday.

Perez is an assistant attorney general at the U.S. Department of Justice. If confirmed by the Senate, replacing Hilda L. Solis, who announced her resignation as secretary of Labor in January to return to Southern California. He would be the only Latino Cabinet secretary.

A White House announcement of Perez’s nomination is expected but not imminent, according to the sources.


The selection of Perez comes as the White House continues to put Obama’s second-term team in place after the departures of key cabinet members this year.

The Labor Department position could play an important role in the president’s second term, as Obama has made immigration reform a top domestic priority. One of the thorniest issues is the creation of a temporary worker program that Republicans want but the president has not explicitly proposed.

Unemployment also remains a stubborn problem, even though the nation’s jobless rate fell to 7.7% last month.

Officials from organized labor have been impressed by Perez and are expected to give him a welcome reception.

Perez, appointed assistant attorney general for civil rights in 2009, has spent his career in public service, according to a department biography.

The former head of Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, Perez also was the first Latino elected to the Montgomery County Council and, in 2005, to serve as its president.

A graduate of Harvard Law School and Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, Perez was a Justice Department attorney for 12 years prosecuting civil-rights cases, and a deputy assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration.

Perez also worked during the Clinton administration as the director of the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services. He was previously on the staff of the late-Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).

The confirmation of some of Obama’s nominees has taken a rocky course in the president’s second term. Republicans in the Senate protested the White House’s choice of Chuck Hagel, the former Republican senator from Nebraska, as Defense secretary and staged a nearly 13-hour filibuster on the nomination of John Brennan as CIA director to debate the nation’s drone program.

It is unclear whether Perez’s nomination would face any delays.

Solis was one of two Latino cabinet secretaries in Obama’s first term, along with former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a former Colorado senator who also decided not to stay for the president’s second term.

A former Southern California congresswoman, Solis has indicated she may run for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors when Gloria Molina is termed out late next year.

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