President Obama’s pick for labor secretary cleared a minor hurdle in the confirmation process Thursday as a Senate committee voted to clear the nomination of Thomas Perez for consideration by the full Senate.

Members of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee voted 12-10 along party lines, with all Republicans opposing the nomination while the Democrats supported it.

Labor secretary nominee Thomas Perez testifies before a Senate committee on April 18. (Molly Riley, File/Associated Press) Labor secretary nominee Thomas Perez testifies before a Senate committee on April 18. (Molly Riley, File/Associated Press)

Perez currently heads the Justice Department’s civil rights division, which agreed during his tenure to refrain from assisting in a whistleblower case against the city of St. Paul, Minn. in exchange for the municipality dropping its Supreme Court challenge against housing-discrimination protections..

Republicans have said Perez made the deal to prevent the justices from weighing in on the legality of the housing-discrimination guidelines.

Perez denied personal involvement with the decision not to sue St. Paul during a previous confirmation hearing, but he acknowledged a role in the city’s decision to withdraw its Supreme Court challenge, saying the move was in the best interest of the nation and that senior Justice officials had approved it.

Those who support the deal, including a former Justice attorney who testified on the matter during the contentious House hearing last week, have said there is nothing unusual about taking the broader interests of the nation into account in such circumstances.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), ranking member of the Senate committee, criticized the agreement Thursday, saying Perez engaged in “an extraordinary amount of wheeling and dealing outside the responsibilities” of his role as head of the civil rights division.

Democrats on the panel spoke glowingly of the labor secretary nominee.

“Without question, Tom Perez has the knowledge and experience needed to guide this critically important agency,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who chairs the committee.

“Mr. Perez has dedicated his life to making sure that every American has a fair opportunity to pursue the American dream,” Harkin added.

For more context on the significance of Perez’s nomination, read Thursday’s Eye Opener on the Federal Eye.


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