The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee's plan to move ahead on President Barack Obama's pick to head the Labor Department ran afoul of one of the chamber's more obscure rules on Wednesday.
“I am deeply disappointed that after additional time was granted as a matter of courtesy, members of the Republican caucus have now used procedural roadblocks to delay Committee consideration of the President’s Cabinet choice for Secretary of Labor, the eminently qualified Thomas Perez," HELP Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said in a statement. "Now more than ever, we need a dynamic leader at the helm of the Department of Labor, and a bipartisan array of business leaders, elected officials, civil rights leaders, and worker advocates have stepped forward to endorse Mr. Perez to fulfill that role."
Harkin will have to wait to report out the nomination of Thomas E. Perez, a former aide to the late Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, to be Labor Secretary because of a seldom-used provision in Senate Rule XXVI:
Notwithstanding any other provision of the rules, when the Senate is in session, no committee of the Senate or any subcommittee thereof may meet, without special leave, after the conclusion of the first two hours after the meeting of the Senate commenced and in no case after two o'clock postmeridian unless consent therefor has been obtained from the majority leader and the minority leader (or in the event of the absence of either of such leaders, from his designee). The prohibition contained in the preceding sentence shall not apply to the Committee on Appropriations or the Committee on the Budget. The majority leader or his designee shall announce to the Senate whenever consent has been given under this subparagraph and shall state the time and place of such meeting. The right to make such announcement of consent shall have the same priority as the filing of a cloture motion.
Perez is currently an assistant attorney general at the Justice Department. He faced no shortage of criticism from House Republicans at a hearing on Tuesday, and on Wednesday morning Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., criticizing the nomination on the Senate floor.
"Americans of all political persuasions have a right to expect that the head of such a sensitive federal department, whether appointed by a Republican or a Democrat, will implement and follow the law in a fair and reasonable way," McConnell said. "But I do not believe they could expect as much from Mr. Perez."