On Thursday morning, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) voted 12-10 along party lines to advance the nomination of Thomas Perez to be the next Secretary of Labor. Now that Perez’s nomination has been reported favorably out of committee, it will next be considered by the full Senate.
Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) emphasized that since the last committee hearing held to consider Perez’s nomination, there has been an “unprecedented level of disclosure” regarding Perez’s involvement in an alleged quid pro quo agreement with the City of St. Paul, Minnesota while serving in his current role as Assistant Attorney General of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. In Magner v. Gallagher, the city had challenged the use of statistics as evidence of race discrimination under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The DOJ was reportedly concerned that the U.S. Supreme Court could strike down this practice and find that disparate impact claims are not cognizable under the FHA, so it allegedly encouraged the city to withdraw its lawsuit. In exchange, according to the accusations, the DOJ would decline to intervene in an unrelated False Claims Act (FCA) lawsuit. The FCA case at issue, United States ex rel. Newell v. City of Saint Paul, was brought by a private whistleblower charging that St. Paul violated the FCA by falsely certifying that it was using federal funds to create jobs for low income workers of all races, when the programs were allegedly focusing only on minority employment. Harkin argued that his investigation into the matter has shown that Perez’s actions were entirely “ethical and appropriate,” and expressed dismay over the delay regarding Perez’s consideration.
Ranking member Lamar Alexander (R-TN), however, claimed that sufficient information has not been provided regarding the Magner and Newell cases, and stated that Perez participated in an “extraordinary amount of wheeling and dealing” regarding the two lawsuits. According to Alexander, Perez “did not discharge his duties to protect the whistleblower in this matter,” and that it was “premature to report Mr. Perez’s nomination” out of committee.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) claimed she is the only one on the committee who knows Perez, and considers him “a fine nominee.” She cited a letter written by the Maryland Chamber of Commerce that said: “Mr. Perez proved himself to be a pragmatic public official,” and that “despite differences of opinion,” Mr. Perez proved himself to be “fair and collaborative. . . Our experience with Mr. Perez in Maryland would bode well for the Nation.”
A webcast of the committee’s executive session can be found here.