WASHINGTON – Seeking to fill yet another second-term Cabinet vacancy, President Barack Obama on Monday will nominate Thomas Perez, an assistant attorney general, to be the next secretary of labour, the White House says.
If confirmed by the Senate, Perez, who has been head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division for 3 1/2 years, would take over the Labor Department as Obama undertakes several worker-oriented initiatives, including an overhaul of immigration laws and an increase in the minimum wage.
Before taking the job as assistant attorney general, Perez was secretary of Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which enforces state consumer rights, workplace safety and wage and hour laws.
In choosing the 51-year-old Perez, the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Obama would be placing an already high-ranking Hispanic official in a Cabinet slot. Perez, a lawyer with a degree from Harvard Law School, would replace Hilda Solis, a former California congresswoman and the nation’s first Hispanic labour secretary.
Perez’s nomination has been expected for weeks, and comes with vigorous support from labour unions and Latino groups.
But a newly released report by the Justice Department’s inspector general is likely to provide fodder for Republicans who say the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has been too politicized.
The report, released last week, said Perez gave incomplete testimony to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights when he said the department’s political leadership was not involved in the decision to dismiss three of the four defendants in a lawsuit the Bush administration brought against the New Black Panther Party.
The report also concluded that Perez did not intentionally mislead the commission and that the department acted properly.
Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa said Perez appeared to be “woefully unprepared to answer questions” from the Civil Rights Commission.
Lynn Rhinehart, general counsel at the AFL-CIO, said the report shows that Perez, who was first hired by the civil rights division as a career attorney under President George H.W. Bush, restored integrity to the voting rights program at the Justice Department.