Monday, March 18, 2013

Obama to tap Perez to head Labor Department Aamer Madhani11:29p.m. EDT March 17, 2013

President Obama will name the Justice Department's top civil rights enforcer Thomas Perez to be his next Labor secretary, according to a White House official.

Obama will make the formal announcement on Monday, according to the official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the announcement had not yet been officially made.

Perez has a long career in public service. Before he was appointed to run the civil rights division at Justice in October 2009, Perez was chosen by Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley to head the state's Department of Labor. He also served on the Montgomery County, Md., Council, and spent nearly 12 years in federal government. Most of that time was spent as an attorney in the civil rights division.

Obama is expected to trumpet that under Perez, the civil rights division settled the three largest fair lending cases for unfair mortgage lending practices and substantially increased enforcement of human trafficking laws.

But his nomination, which requires Senate confirmation, is expected to face tough scrutiny from Republicans following a Justice Department Inspector General report released last week that was sharply critical of Perez.

The report determined that Perez gave incomplete testimony to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 2010 when he testified Justice's political leadership was not involved in the decision to dismiss three of the four defendants in a lawsuit the George W. Bush administration brought against the New Black Panther Party,

"We found that Perez's testimony did not reflect the entire story regarding the involvement of political appointees," the report said. "We did not find that Perez intentionally misled the commission. Nevertheless, given he was testifying as a department witness before the commission, we believe that Perez should have sought more details."

Following the release of the report last week, Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, was sharply critical of Perez.

"The Attorney General should demand unbiased advice from department attorneys and the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Rights Division, Tom Perez, who appears to also have been woefully unprepared to answer questions in front of the Civil Rights Commission on a subject matter he told the Inspector General he expected questions on," Grassley said in a statement.

A few of Obama's second-term Cabinet and agency appointees have already faced tough confirmations. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's nomination was grilled about past comments he made about Israel, and CIA Director John Brennan's confirmation was slowed over questions about the agency's drone program.

United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, who Obama was considering to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton at the State Department, removed herself from consideration after facing blistering criticism from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

The senators blasted Rice for inaccurate comments she made in the days after the Sep. 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that left Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead.

If confirmed, Perez, 51, will replace Hilda Solis who announced her resignation from the post in January.

The pick could also ease pressure on Obama from Hispanic groups who have been urging the president to appoint a Latino to a Cabinet level position after the departures of Solis and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who also recently announced he was stepping down.

Perez is a Harvard educated lawyer and the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. His father died when he was 12.

"Thomas Perez is an eminently qualified public servant who has the professional experience and compelling personal story to serve at the highest levels of the administration," said Janet MurguĂ­a, president of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights group. "Mr. Perez's impeccable legal background in civil rights issues, particularly workers' rights, as well as his decades of service as an elected and appointed official make him uniquely prepared to address the policy complexities and management responsibilities at the Department of Labor."