President Obama’s nominee to head the U.S. Department of Labor hit another snag in the Senate on Wednesday after Republicans who oppose the pick used a parliamentary maneuver to again delay a key vote on his nomination.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee was forced to push back a vote on Thomas E. Perez, former assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, which was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, as Republicans stepped up their campaign to deny him the job.
Mr. Perez is strongly backed by Democrats but has been attacked by Republicans and some outside groups for what they say is a record of activist overreach during his tenure at the Justice Department.
To delay the vote, Republicans invoked a rarely used rule that committees cannot start a meeting more than two hours after the Senate floor session starts for that day. Committees routinely waive the rule with consent from both parties, a Democratic Senate aide said, but Republicans would not do so Wednesday.
In late April, the committee postponed an earlier vote on Mr. Perez’s nomination as Republicans sought extra time to track down another witness.
In what will likely turn into a party-line decision, the Senate committee is now scheduled to vote May 18. If Mr. Perez, 51, is finally approved by the Democrat-controlled committee, his nomination would then go to the Senate floor, where Republicans could renew their effort to block his confirmation.
“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,” committee Chairman Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, said in a statement. “Despite this needless delay, the [committee] will vote next week on Mr. Perez’s nomination, and I hope that the full U.S. Senate will work quickly to consider and confirm Mr. Perez.”
But the Senate’s top Republican took to the Senate floor Wednesday to argue that Mr. Perez is too political for the job.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch Mc-Connell accused Mr. Perez of having a “flippant and dismissive attitude” about the law. The Kentucky Republican pointed to a statement Mr. Perez made when he acknowledged “‘sometimes you have to push the envelope.’”
“Think about that statement: ‘Sometimes you have to push the envelope,’” Mr. McConnell said. “Is that the kind of approach to federal law we want in those we confirm to run federal agencies? Folks who think that if federal law is inconvenient to their ends, they can simply characterize it as unclear and use that as an excuse to do what they want?”
If confirmed, Mr. Perez would be the only Hispanic member of Mr. Obama’s second-term Cabinet. But the Senate’s best-known Hispanic member, Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, announced Wednesday he would oppose the nomination.
“Mr. Perez’s far-left views and troubling record at the Justice Department simply do not qualify him to lead the Labor Department, and I will strongly oppose his confirmation,” Mr. Rubio said.
But Senate Democrats remain strongly united behind the nominee.
“I think the evidence clearly shows that you acted ethically and appropriately at all times,” Mr. Harkin said of Mr. Perez at last month’s confirmation hearing.
The conservative activist group Judicial Watch also came out against Mr. Perez, citing his record at the Justice Department.
Mr. Perez “has shown a glaring inability to tell the truth and dispassionately apply the basic constitutional tenet of ‘equal justice under law,’” the group said in a statement.
Much of the criticism surrounding Mr. Perez stems from an agreement he negotiated with the city of St. Paul, Minn., during his time at the Justice Department. Republican lawmakers accuse Mr. Perez of pressuring St. Paul officials to withdraw a housing discrimination lawsuit last year by agreeing to simultaneously drop a whistleblower case against the city.
The whistleblower case could have netted taxpayers nearly $200 million, but Mr. Perez dropped it because he was afraid of the possible precedent set by the city’s housing discrimination lawsuit. Critics say Mr. Perez overstepped his authority in this case.
“That seems to me to be an extraordinary amount of wheeling and dealing,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the committee, last month during Mr. Perez’s confirmation hearing. “It seems to me you’re manipulating the legal process.”
Opponents are also critical of Mr. Perez’s handling of a politically charged voter discrimination case against the New Black Panther Party. After the group was accused of scaring white voters away from the polls during the 2008 presidential election, Mr. Perez used his influence to pressure authorities to drop the case.
“He refused to protect the right to vote for Americans of all races,” Mr. McConnell said.
“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,” Mr. McConnell added. “But I do not believe they could expect as much from Mr. Perez.”