- The Washington Times - Monday, March 18, 2013

President Obama Monday nominated Thomas E. Perez to be the next Labor Department secretary — setting up yet another contentious confirmation battle in the Senate.

Mr. Obama’s pick comes less than a week after a scathing audit of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, which Mr. Perez runs as an assistant attorney general. The department’s inspector general said the Civil Rights division had become riven with factions, and questioned whether Mr. Perez was completely truthful in information he gave about the decision to dismiss a high-profile voter intimidation case involving the New Black Panther Party in Philadelphia.

But Mr. Perez also brings a long list of qualifications, including his more than three years in a top Justice post and, before that, ran Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

“Like so many Americans, Tom knows what it’s like to climb the ladder of opportunity …,” Mr. Obama said, noting that Mr. Perez paid his way through college by working as a garbage collector and went on to become the first lawyer in his family. “Tom has spent a career as a consensus builder. … He understands that our economy works best when the middle class and everybody working to get into the middle class have a fair shot, that everyone is playing by the same set of rules.”

During brief remarks after Mr. Obama’s formal nomination, Mr. Perez twice spoke in Spanish before repeating the phrases in English.

“It’s a remarkably humbling and exciting phenomenon to be here today,” he said. “My parents taught us to work hard … and make sure the ladder of opportunity is there for those who came after us.”

His nomination had been expected for some time and has the strong backing of Hispanic advocacy groups, who vowed to push for his confirmation and demanded quick Senate action.

“Mr. Perez embodies the wealth of talent and expertise that exists within the nation’s Latino community today,” the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials said Monday. “We look forward to working with the president to support Mr. Perez’s nomination and to identify other Latino voices for cabinet positions that will build on the legacy of both Secretaries Salazar and Solis.”

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who named him to head the state’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, praised Mr. Perez record as a member of his Executive Cabinet.

“Under his leadership in Maryland, he worked diligently to find innovative ways to protect our state’s workforce in the toughest of times,” he said. “From foreclosure prevention to living wage implementation to workforce development and skills training, Tom established an aggressive portfolio that helped Marylanders weather a changing new economy.”

Mr. Obama is in the middle of restocking his Cabinet for a second term, and has already earned confirmation of new secretaries for the Defense and State departments, as well as a CIA director.

But a number of fights still loom, including for Mr. Obama’s environmental team — particularly with his pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Congressional Republicans say the agency has made a habit of hiding emails from open-records requests and plan to make that an issue in the confirmation battle over Gina McCarthy, Mr. Obama’s pick to be EPA administrator.

• Susan Crabtree can be reached at scrabtree@washingtontimes.com.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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