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The GOP's Risky Fight Over Perez

Holding up Labor nominee could mean trouble for a party focused on reaching out to minorities

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Perez is the only Latino nominated so far for a second-term Cabinet position.

Senate Republicans have a thorny dilemma regarding President Barack Obama’s nomination of Thomas E. Perez as Labor secretary, especially now that the GOP apparatus has begun to redouble its efforts to reach out to minorities.

If Republicans block Perez, they risk undercutting the Republican National Committee’s brand-new diversity push and getting mired in fights over voting rights and immigration. But if they allow his nomination to go through, they risk blowback from their base. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh likened Perez to Hugo Chavez after Obama nominated him Monday. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., quickly announced he’s putting a hold on the pick, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, indicated Monday that he may join Vitter.

Don’t think the White House hasn’t noticed.

“The way the far right is reacting to the Perez nom is likely to be included in the paperback version of the RNC report,” tweeted Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to the president. Pfeiffer was referring to the RNC’s 2012 election post-mortem report, released Monday, in which the party argues it needs to do a better job of reaching out to minority voters.

But despite Vitter’s opening salvo, GOP aides told CQ Roll Call it’s too early to tell how tough a fight Perez will face. Much will depend on how he performs in his confirmation hearing. Perez has already been confirmed once, by a 72-22 vote in 2009, when Democrats had a supermajority.

Perez, the assistant attorney general in charge of civil rights laws, is the only Latino Cabinet nominee so far this term, and he has strong support from unions and Hispanic advocacy organizations. The Harvard-trained lawyer and former staffer to the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., is whip-smart, politically adept and a committed liberal.

It’s that last part, including Perez’s long advocacy of rights for illegal immigrants and support for new laws mandating higher wages, that has drawn intense fire from the right. Perez’s use of the Voting Rights Act to fight voter identification laws has been strongly opposed by the GOP, and he has faced criticism over his testimony in an investigation of the politicizing of the civil rights division of the Justice Department.

Vitter vowed to hold up Perez’s nomination until the Justice Department answers his 2011 letter challenging the department’s voting rights suit against Louisiana and what Vitter said was nonexistent enforcement of requirements that states purge ineligible voters from the rolls.

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