President Barack Obama will nominate assistant U.S. attorney general Thomas Perez as labor secretary today, the White House said.
Perez would replace Hilda Solis, ensuring that the Labor Department is led again by a Hispanic, helping the president maintaining diversity in his second-term cabinet. Solis resigned in January.
“Tom is a dedicated public servant who has spent his career fighting to keep the American dream within reach for hard-working middle class families and those striving to get into the middle class,” the White House said in a statement.
If confirmed by the Senate, Perez would probably play a prominent part in pushing Obama’s agenda on issues including immigration overhaul and raising the nation’s minimum wage to $9 per hour from $7.25 per hour.
Perez, 51, has led the Justice Department’s civil rights unit since 2009. He has pursued discriminatory job postings at a Florida health-care company, charges of sex discrimination in hiring by Corpus Christie, Texas, and lawsuits against Georgia for failing to ensure overseas voting rights.
Last May, Perez accused Arizona’s Maricopa County and its sheriff of discriminating against Latinos in a lawsuit. Sheriff Joseph Arpaio said the Obama administration was targeting him in an election-year maneuver.
Before taking his Justice Department post, Perez was secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which oversees workplace safety laws, wage-and-hour regulations and the state’s consumer-protection laws.
He was the first Hispanic elected to the county council in Montgomery County, Maryland, a suburb of Washington. He served from 2002 to 2005, including a one year as its president.
Perez earned a law degree from Harvard University and holds degrees in international relations and political science from Brown University.
White House officials said the president is making cabinet choices to ensure that the heads of departments and agencies reflect the political coalition of Latinos, blacks and women that helped him win re-election last November against Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
Obama chose three white males for the Central Intelligence Agency, State Department and Defense Department. They have been balanced by the nomination of Sylvia Mathews Burwell, of the Wal-Mart Foundation, as budget chief, scientist Ernest Moniz as head of the Energy Department, and Gina McCarthy to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.
Senator Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa, has criticized Perez as a potential secretary of labor. Grassley is among the lawmakers looking into Perez’s role in a decision by St. Paul, Minnesota, to drop a Supreme Court appeal in a case that fair-lending advocates said would have harmed a central enforcement tenet in housing discrimination cases.
The Justice Department declined to join two whistle-blower lawsuits against St. Paul in exchange for the city dropping the appeal, Grassley said in a September letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. As a result, the U.S. lost as much as $180 million in settlement money, he said. The letter was also signed by Republican Representatives Darrell Issa of California, Lamar Smith of Texas and Patrick McHenry of North Carolina.
Justice Department officials said at the time that Perez’s involvement in the discussions was deemed appropriate by ethics officials.
“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,” Grassley has said. “I shudder to think how whistle- blowers will be treated in the Labor Department if this quid pro quo with St. Paul is any indication of Mr. Perez’s approach to this important area of law.”
Remaining vacancies in Obama’s cabinet include secretaries of commerce and transportation, U.S. Trade Representative and Small Business Administration.
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