Vote on Obama’s choice to lead Labor Department delayed

Labor Secretary nominee Thomas Perez testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Capitol Hill.
(Alex Wong / Getty Images)

WASHINGTON -- A vote on President Obama’s nominee to lead the Labor Department was delayed for an additional week, the latest roadblock for the controversial choice.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions was scheduled to meet Wednesday afternoon to decide whether to recommend the nomination of Thomas E. Perez, the head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, to the full Senate.


But Republicans on the panel refused to allow what is usually a routine waiver of an obscure Senate rule that prohibits committees from meeting after the full Senate has been in session for two hours.

The committee was scheduled to meet at 10 a.m., the same time the Senate session started, but the hearing was postponed so senators could attend a special joint meeting of Congress to hear a speech from the South Korean president. The meeting has been rescheduled for May 16.

Democrats said the delay was not a sign the Perez nomination was in trouble. “They’re doing everything they can to delay it. But we’ll have the votes,” Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the committee chairman, said.

Perez has been a target of conservatives for his work at Justice. During his April confirmation hearing, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the committee’s senior Republican, said Perez had done “an extraordinary amount of wheeling and dealing” to manipulate the system of justice “in an inappropriate way.”

He referred to an agreement Perez orchestrated with the city of St. Paul, Minn., to drop its appeal of a case on housing code enforcement that was to go before the Supreme Court in return for the Labor Department not intervening in unrelated whistle-blower action against the city involving $200 million in housing funds. Liberals had feared an adverse ruling from the court.

House subcommittees held a joint hearing on the case Tuesday to discuss a report written by Republican subcommittee staff that accused Perez of quid pro quo in what it called the “secret deal.” It alleged that Perez made statements to the committees that contradicted testimony from other witnesses.

Harkin called the report a “fishing expedition.” “There’s no there there,” he said. “It’s just pure politics.”

Republicans have been careful in their critique of Perez to focus narrowly on his actions. Perez would be the lone Latino to serve in Obama’s Cabinet if confirmed, and the party is seeking to broaden its appeal to Latinos.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a floor speech that Perez “is not just a man with a heart for the poor,” noting his work as an “advocate for those struggling on the fringes of society.”

Perez is also “a committed ideologue who appears willing, quite frankly, to say or do anything to achieve his ideological ends.”

Alexander said Wednesday that the delay was necessary because “there are some questions that need to be answered before we’re able to go forward.”

“A lot of people don’t feel that he’s been straightforward,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), another committee member.

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