Secretary of Labor nominee Thomas Perez faced two hours of intense scrutiny at his nomination hearing Thursday morning as he sought to alleviate Republican concerns over his role in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.
At issue is a lengthy report released earlier this week in which GOP leaders accuse Perez of attempting to influence the city of St. Paul, Minn., to withdraw a housing discrimination case before it could be brought before the Supreme Court. In exchange, the Department of Justice agreed not to intervene in two whistleblower cases against St. Paul that could have won up to $200 million for taxpayers.
Sen. Lamar Alexander engaged Perez in a heated line of questioning, accusing Perez of doing "an extraordinary amount of wheeling and dealing."
"You have a duty to protect the money, a duty to protect the whistleblower, and at the same time, it seems to me that you're manipulating the legal process to try to get the result you want from the Supreme Court in a way that's inappropriate," Alexander, R-Tenn., said.
Perez defended his actions, saying DOJ chooses not to stay out of "a lot of different things."
"It was in the interest of justice and it was entirely appropriate to do so in the opinion of professional responsibility people and others," he told the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. "I believe the resolution reached in this case was in fact in the interest of justice."
Democratic senators had kind words for Perez. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., introduced him as "one of Maryland's favorite sons," saying "we believe he is the right man for the job."
Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., joined in the praise, adding "you have a very amazing, impressive, wide range of experience that you are bringing from a number of different agencies…You're something of a turn-around expert for public sector agencies, so thank you for that."
When asked what his very top priority would be should he be confirmed as Secretary of Labor, Perez had one answer: "jobs, jobs, jobs."
He expanded on his goals and priorities, including reauthorizing the Workforce Investment Act, maintaining pension security, and spending his first 100 days as secretary on a listening tour of America, reaching out to small businesses and workers alike.
"The president has asked all of us to consider three questions in the decisions we make," Perez said. "How do we make America a magnet for jobs? How do we equip our people with the skills they need to succeed in those jobs, and how do we ensure that an honest day's work leads to a decent living?"
Perez concluded, "These questions are at the core of the mission of the Department of Labor, and if confirmed you have my word that I will keep them there."
The committee is expected to vote on Perez's nomination on Thursday, April 25.