“This is an unfortunate and needlessly divisive nomination. The top priority of the secretary of Labor should be to create jobs and higher wages for American workers. But Mr. Perez has aggressively sought ways to allow the hiring of more illegal workers,” Sessions said in a statement. “Mr. Perez has also had a controversial tenure at the Department of Justice where he has demonstrated a fundamentally political approach to the law.”
But even as Vitter and Sessions highlighted the deep GOP uneasiness about Perez, the top Republican on the panel that will hold hearings on the nomination said he would keep an open mind.
“I look forward to meeting with Mr. Perez and examining his record and qualifications,” Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said in a statement. “Any nominee for this position should be ready and able to work with both parties in Congress to make it easier for the private sector to create good jobs for the 12 million workers still unemployed now, three and a half years after the recession ended.”
Alexander is one of nine current Republican senators — and 17 overall — who voted for Perez when he was confirmed as the Civil Rights Division head in October 2009. Perez was confirmed by a vote of 72-22.
HELP Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said he hopes to begin the vetting process quickly.
“I pledge to work with ranking member Alexander and members of the committee to promptly complete our review of Mr. Perez’s nomination,” Harkin said. “Mr. Perez brings significant experience and expertise to this position, and I am confident that he will serve ably if confirmed.”
Perez previously served as Maryland’s Labor secretary, in the Office of Civil Rights at the Health and Human Services Department and as a special counsel to the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.
Labor Unions Supportive
Labor unions and liberal advocacy groups praised Obama for nominating Perez, citing his record at the Civil Rights Division as a benefit, not a liability.
Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, lauded Perez’s recent work, making a veiled reference to the racial profiling charges he pursued against Joe Arpaio, the Republican sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., who is among the most divisive figures in the national immigration debate.
“During his time at the Justice Department, Mr. Perez has initiated many important challenges to state and local laws that sought to infringe on the civil rights of minority communities,” Henry said.
Indeed, immigration could become a key focus of Perez’s tenure at Labor if he is confirmed, and many pro-labor stakeholders highlighted that on Monday. Perez, whose parents emigrated from the Dominican Republic, opened and closed his brief nomination acceptance speech at the White House in Spanish.
“The appointment of Thomas Perez as head of the Department of Labor brings immigrants one step closer to equal rights at the workplace,” said Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. “It is a signal of the need for full labor protections within immigration reform.”
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, also noted the qualities Perez would bring to the immigration debate.