President Obama is expected this week to pick former Maryland Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez as his new Labor Department head, but it’s unclear, after Sen. Rand Paul’s dramatic 13-hour filibuster of a vote on a new CIA director last week, if Republicans have the stomach for another nomination fight.
Mr. Perez, 51, has led the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division since 2009 as an assistant U.S. attorney general. Previously, he served as Maryland’s labor secretary, and before that he was the first Hispanic to be elected to the Montgomery County Council.
Unions are upbeat about the possibility of a Perez nomination.
“I would describe him as being friendly to labor,” said Fred Mason, president of the Maryland State and District of Columbia AFL-CIO. “I would also describe him as being friendly to business. He understands the role that both play in moving American society forward.”
The Hispanic community is also behind Mr. Perez, who would be the second consecutive Hispanic labor secretary, following Hilda L. Solis, who resigned in January after being appointed at the beginning of the Obama administration’s first term.
“It is very, very exciting that another Hispanic representative will take over Hilda Solis’ position,” said Angela Franco, president and CEO of the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “It’s important that President Obama has a Cabinet that understands the different faces that this country has. It’s important to have a perspective from everybody. It shows the diversity that represents this country.”
But critics say Mr. Perez brings with him baggage from his time in the Justice Department.
GOP lawmakers point to a court case in St. Paul, Minn., where he is accused of using questionable tactics to persuade the city to drop a lawsuit that would have made it more difficult to prove race discrimination.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who has long opposed Mr. Perez, was one of several lawmakers last year behind a letter that criticized Mr. Perez for his role in this case that could cost taxpayers $180 million.
“It’s hard to believe that the president would nominate somebody at the heart of a congressional investigation and so deeply involved in a controversial decision to make a shady deal with the city of St. Paul, Minnesota, that ultimately led to losing the American taxpayer potentially hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said in a statement.
“If Mr. Perez is nominated, he should face a lot of tough questions about this quid pro quo deal he appears to have put together,” Mr. Grassley added.
Rep. Sam Graves, the Missouri Republican who chairs the House Small Business Committee, challenged the Labor Department’s recent record of attacking businesses.
“If nominated, I hope that Mr. Perez will be more open than his predecessor to the concerns of small businesses before pushing regulations that could put them out of business,” Mr. Graves said in a statement. “Small businesses have been handicapped by unnecessarily burdensome regulations during the first term of President Obama, and this trend must stop.”
This puts the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in the unique position of representing both the Hispanic community, which is cheering the move, and a business community likely to be more skeptical about Mr. Perez.
Ms. Franco addressed this dilemma.
“Everybody thinks that businesses and labor officials fight all the time,” she said. “But I don’t think you can be labor-friendly or business-friendly. He can manage a balance between both. You have to be fair with businesses and you have to be fair with employees. That’s really what I want to see.”
She said Mr. Perez is a strong advocate of small business.
“I think the smaller, smaller businesses are struggling the most, and they need to believe and know there’s someone representing them, as well,” she said.