Obama taps Thomas Perez to be Labor chief

Updated March 18, 2013 at 1:01 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 18 (UPI) -- President Obama Monday nominated Thomas Perez, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, as U.S. labor secretary.

"Tom's knowledge and experience will make him an outstanding secretary of labor, and there's plenty of work to do," Obama said. "We're gonna have to work very hard to make sure that folks find jobs with good wages and good benefits. We've gotta make sure that are veterans who are returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan have a chance to put their incredible skills and leadership at work at home. We need to build an immigration system that works for every employee, and every family and every business."

Perez's nomination came soon after a Justice Department inspector general's report found the Civil Rights Division's voting rights unit was divided by "deep ideological polarization" between liberal and conservative factions that dated to President George W. Bush's administration, The New York Times reported.

If approved by the Senate, Perez would succeed Hilda Solis, who ran the Labor Department during Obama's first term.

Most of the issues in the inspector general's report occurred before Perez was confirmed in October 2009. Perez has said the report indicated the problems were cleared during his watch.

The report also raised questions about testimony Perez gave before Congress, and Republicans said they would examine his handling of some cases since his confirmation. Among questions critics are expected to raise is whether Perez acted inappropriately in getting St. Paul, Minn., city officials to drop a lawsuit seeking to limit fair housing claims when intentional bias is missing, the Times said.

If confirmed, Perez, 51, would be the only Hispanic on the Cabinet.

"Like to many Americans, Tom knows what it's like to climb the ladder of opportunity. He's the son of Dominican immigrants," Obama said. "He helped pay his way through college as a garbage collector and working at a warehouse. He went on to become the first lawyer in his family."

"As you well know, our nation still faces critical economic challenges and the department's mission is as important as ever," Perez said. "I am confident that together with our partners in organized labor, the business community, grassroots communities, Republicans, Democrats and independents alike, we can keep making progress for all working families."

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