Perez clears committee, now faces larger fight

WASHINGTON -- Democrats and Republicans quickly squared off Thursday over the confirmation of Labor Secretary nominee and Marylander Tom Perez -- preparing for a fight that is likely to intensify after a Senate committee voted along party lines to advance his nomination to the full Senate.

House Democrats crafted a letter with 137 signatures to Senate leaders calling for a quick vote. "America's workers deserve a Labor Department operating at full capacity, especially as our economic recovery moves forward," Rep. Steny Hoyer, the Southern Maryland lawmaker and minority whip, said in a statement.

But Republicans, concerned about actions Perez took as head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, are unlikely to allow Perez a vote quickly. The 12-10 party-line vote by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee on Thursday means Democrats won’t likely be able to count on much help from the GOP to clear Perez.

Republicans have focused criticism on a case in which the Justice Department agreed to back out of a lawsuit filed against the city of St. Paul, Minn., if city leaders dropped a separate case Perez was concerned could have resulted in an adverse Supreme Court ruling. Republicans say federal taxpayers could have recovered $200 million in misspent funds if the Justice Department had pursued the case.

"It seems to me that Mr. Perez did not discharge the duty he owed to the government to try to collect the money owed to taxpayers," Sen. Lamar Alexander, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate committee, said in a statement. "At the same time he was manipulating the legal process to remove a case from the Supreme Court in a way that seems inappropriate for the Assistant Attorney General of the United States."

Perez, a 51-year-old Takoma Park resident, is the only Latino nominated to President Barack Obama's second term cabinet. He is the former head of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, was the first Latino to win a seat on the Montgomery County Council in 2002 and briefly ran for Maryland attorney general in 2006.

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