Only a few hours later, it is now clear that some Republicans will do all they can to block Obama’s first Latino pick for his second-term cabinet — and the right is gearing up for a campaign against him that will make the effort to block Chuck Hagel look like a knitting seminar. Given Thomas Perez’s background as the son of Dominican immigrants, plus his role running the Justice Department’s civil rights division, this isn’t going to make the RNC’s “outreach” to Latinos any easier.
Senator David Vitter announced today that he will put a “hold” on Obama’s nomination of Thomas Perez as labor secretary, partly on the grounds of his work on … the New Black Panther case. Other Republican Senators plan to paint Perez as a “radical legal activist” who has “tried to help illegal immigrants avoid detection,” as the New York Times puts it.
To be clear, it is fair game for Republicans to use the nomination process to ask legitimate questions about a nominee, and to raise substantive objections to that nominee. But if the attacks on Perez veer into the lurid and racially charged, it will be very interesting to see how Republicans who agree with the RNC’s analysis of the GOP’s problems handle it.
It’s not hard to see why conservatives hate Perez’s record at the civil rights division. As Adam Serwer recently summarized:
Since Perez took the helm, the division has blocked partisan voting schemes, cracked down on police brutality, protected gay and lesbian students from harassment, sued anti-immigrant Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio for racial profiling, stood up against Islamophobia, and forced the two largest fair-housing settlements in history from banks that discriminated against minority homeowners.
Conservatives are already signaling that they are going to tee off Perez’s record to go the lurid and racially charged route. Michele Malkin, for instance, dismissed Perez as “Obama’s nominee for secretary of (illegal alien) labor.” Rush Limbaugh says: “He is the guy in the Department of Justice in the civil rights division who made the call not to prosecute the New Black Panthers,” adding: “He may as well be Hugh Chavez.”
Remember, there’s precedent here. When Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor as the first Latina Supreme Court justice, some conservatives and Republicans denounced her as “little more than an affirmative action hire,” as Jamelle Bouie put it, and even attacked her for her membership in a Latino civil rights organization, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Educational Fund, claiming it had been tied to ACORN. This may well have been one of the factors that led to Mitt Romney’s historic losing margin among Latinos.
Now that the confirmation process for another highly regarded Latino is set to unfold, the right will be rolling out a similar sounding set of attacks — extremist, radical, secret agent for illegal immigrants under the guise of civil rights — and possibly even some of its favorite racially charged golden oldies from Obama’s first term. That will create a tricky balancing act for those Republicans who agree with the RNC’s diagnosis of the need to repair relations with Latinos. How will they respond if their friends on the right go down that familiar road?