Sen. David Vitter, R-La., announced Monday that he will block President Barack Obama’s nominee for Labor secretary, Thomas E. Perez, until he receives more information about Perez’s enforcement of a federal voting law as the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
The announcement, made less than two hours after Obama nominated Perez to lead the Labor Department, indicates that another of the president’s high-level nominees could face a protracted confirmation fight in the Senate this year. Obama’s choices to lead the Pentagon and CIA, Chuck Hagel and John O. Brennan, also faced strong Republican opposition — including filibusters — before ultimately being confirmed.
Some other Senate Republicans, however, took a more measured approach to Perez, indicating that the caucus may still be evaluating how forcefully it will object to the nomination. If confirmed, Perez would become the only Latino member of Obama’s second-term Cabinet, and Republicans may be uneasy about vocally opposing Perez after handily losing the Latino vote in last year’s presidential election.
Through a spokesman, Vitter said he would allow Perez’s nomination to proceed only if Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. responds to a letter Vitter sent him in November 2011. In that letter, Vitter raised questions about what he called the Justice Department’s “selective enforcement” of the National Voter Registration Act, a 1993 federal law intended to streamline the voter registration process in the states.
Vitter said he is troubled by reports that the department — and, specifically, Perez’s division — aggressively enforced one aspect of the law that encourages welfare recipients to become registered voters while doing little to enforce a separate section of the law that is intended to prevent ineligible voters, such as convicted felons, from being registered.
“The two provisions act together as counterparts, but it is evident that the Justice Department is not enforcing them equally,” Vitter wrote.
“Justice must fully enforce this law, rather than refusing to enforce the voter list integrity provisions while making the welfare agency registration law its top priority,” he continued. “The Civil Rights Division does not have the right to pick and choose which laws are worthy of enforcement and which ones are not. I urge you to personally ensure that the Justice Department does not enable voter fraud by neglecting to enforce Section 8 of the NVRA.”
Vitter’s announcement seemingly ensures that Holder must again provide a written answer to a Republican senator before one of Obama’s Cabinet nominees can be confirmed.
Brennan’s confirmation to head the CIA moved forward only after Holder provided a written clarification to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., about the administration’s policy on lethal drone attacks in the United States. Paul led a nearly 13-hour talking filibuster on the Senate floor in a successful effort to obtain Holder’s response.
Other Republicans Wait and See
Vitter was not the only Republican on Monday who announced immediate opposition to Perez. GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a member of the Judiciary Committee, unequivocally called Perez “the wrong man for this job” and cited the nominee’s views on immigration and his often controversial tenure at the Justice Department.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.