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Harkin Statement on the Nomination of Thomas Perez

WASHINGTON—Today, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, spoke on the floor of the Senate about Republican obstructionism that has prevented a scheduled Committee vote this afternoon on the nomination of Thomas Perez to be Secretary of Labor.

Below is the full text of Harkin’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:

“I come to the floor today to express my deep disappointment that – once again – Republican obstructionism and procedural tricks are preventing this body from carrying out its duties, including its obligation to consider important Presidential nominations. 

“This time the target is Tom Perez, the President’s extremely qualified nominee for Secretary of Labor.  The HELP Committee was scheduled to vote on his nomination at 4:00 this afternoon.   We won’t be doing that.  An anonymous Republican has invoked an obscure procedural rule to prevent our Committee from meeting at that scheduled time.  This pointless obstructionism is extremely disturbing.

“I would like to point out that we had previously been scheduled to vote on his nomination in my Committee two weeks ago, but in an effort to be accommodating to our colleagues who requested more time to consider documents related to the nomination, we deferred for two weeks as a courtesy.  This time, there is no allegation that they have had insufficient time for consideration – just delay for its own sake. 

“The nomination has been before our Committee since March.  We have held a hearing, during which Mr. Perez fully answered all questions posed to him.  Mr. Perez has met with any interested Senator personally and answered more than 200 written questions for the record.  It is an understatement to say that his nomination has been thoroughly vetted.

“This continuing delay is unconscionable, and only hurts the American workers and businesses that rely on the Department of Labor each and every day.  As our country continues to move down the road to economic recovery, the work of the Department of Labor is becoming even more vital to the lives of working families.  Whether it’s making sure workers get paid the wages they deserve, helping returning veterans reenter the workforce, protecting our seniors’ retirement nest eggs, or ensuring that a new mother can care for her baby without losing her job, the Department of Labor helps families build the cornerstones of a middle-class life.

“Now more than ever, we need strong leadership at the Department to help strengthen our fragile recovery and build a stronger, revitalized American middle class.  That’s why this nomination is so important.

“Now, there has been a lot of public discussion about Mr. Perez, but remarkably little of it has focused on what should be the central question before this Committee today:  Will Tom Perez be a good Secretary of Labor?  And the answer is unequivocally yes. 

“Without question, he has the knowledge and experience needed to guide this critically important agency.  Through his professional experiences – and especially his work as Secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation – he has developed strong policy expertise about the many important issues for American workers and businesses that come before the Department of Labor each day.  He spearheaded major initiatives on potentially controversial issues, such as unemployment insurance reform and worker misclassification, while finding common ground between workers and businesses to build sensible, commonsense solutions. 

“He also clearly has the management skills to run a large federal agency effectively.  He was also an effective manager and a responsible steward of public resources, undertaking significant administrative and organizational reforms that made the Maryland DLLR more efficient and more effective.  

“His outstanding work in Maryland has won him the support of the business community and worker advocates alike.  To quote from the endorsement letter of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce:  “Mr. Perez proved himself to be a pragmatic public official who was willing to bring differing voices together. The Maryland Chamber had the opportunity to work with Mr. Perez on an array of issues of importance to employers in Maryland, from unemployment and workforce development to the housing and foreclosure crisis.  Despite differences of opinion, Mr. Perez was always willing to allow all parties to be heard and we found him to be fair and collaborative. I believe that our experiences with him here in Maryland bode well for the nation.”

“That’s a pretty strong endorsement by a Chamber of Commerce for a nominee that the minority leader characterizes as a “crusading ideologue . . . willing to do or say anything to achieve his ideological ends.”  That grossly unfair characterization is manifestly inconsistent with the experiences of the Republican leaders and businesses who have actually worked with Perez.  I ask unanimous consent to include in the record today letters from business and Republican leaders demonstrating the strong bipartisan support for Mr. Perez’s nomination.  These people clearly disagree with the minority leader’s assessment of Mr. Perez’s qualifications and character.

“Indeed, I think Mr. Perez’s character is exactly what qualifies him for this job.  Tom Perez has dedicated his life to making sure that every American has a fair opportunity to pursue the American dream.  At the Maryland Department of Labor, he revamped the state’s adult education system so that more people could successfully train for better jobs and brighter futures.  As the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the Department of Justice, he has been a voice for the most vulnerable and reinvigorated the enforcement of some of our most critical laws. 

“He has helped more Americans achieve the dream of home ownership though his unprecedented efforts to prevent residential lending discrimination.  He has helped ensure that people with disabilities have the choice to live in their own homes and communities -- rather than only in institutional settings – and to receive supports and services to make this possible.  He has stepped up the Department’s efforts to protect the employment rights of servicemembers, so that our men and women in uniform can return to their jobs and support their families after serving their county. 

“Tom Perez is passionate about these issues.  He is passionate about justice, and he is passionate about fairness. I believe these are qualities that Tom learned at the hand of his former employer and the HELP Committee’s former Chairman, Senator Ted Kennedy.  But, as he explained at his confirmation hearing, he also learned from Kennedy ‘that idealism and pragmatism are not mutually exclusive.’  Mr. Perez knows how to bring people together to make progress on even controversial issues, without burning bridges. 

“He knows how to hit the ground running, and quickly and effectively become an agent of real change.

“That is exactly the kind of leadership we need at the Department of Labor.  We need his vision, we need his passion, and we need his character at the helm of this important agency.

“Allow me to state very clearly that, while I know there has been a lot of controversy surrounding Mr. Perez’s nomination, there is absolutely nothing that calls into question his ability to fairly enforce the law as it is written, his professional integrity or moral character, or his ability to lead the Department of Labor. 

“As I mentioned, Mr. Perez has been as open and aboveboard as he could possibly be throughout his confirmation process.  He has met with any member personally who requested a meeting.  He appeared before the Committee in a public hearing.  He has answered more than 200 written questions.  He bent over backward to respond to any and all concerns raised about his work at the Department of Justice.

“This Administration has also been extraordinarily accommodating to my Republican colleagues, especially to their concerns about Mr. Perez’s involvement in the global resolution of two cases involving the City of St. Paul -- Magner v. St. Paul and  Newell v. St. Paul.  The Administration has produced thousands of documents.  They have arranged for the interview of government employees.  They have facilitated almost unprecedented levels of disclosure to alleviate any concerns.   

“As Chairman, I have also tried to be as accommodating as possible, joining in requests for documents that I – quite frankly – thought were unnecessary, and postponing the Executive Session for two weeks to provide members additional time for consideration.

“All that this extensive process has revealed is that Mr. Perez acted at all times ethically and appropriately to advance the interests of the United States government.  For example, with respect to the Magner and Newell matters, Mr. Perez consulted with both outside ethics and professional responsibility experts at the Department of Justice, and Mr. Perez acted within their guidance at all times. 

“And, it is no surprise that outside ethics experts have confirmed that Mr. Perez acted appropriately in this matter.  I would like to submit for the record letters and statements from several legal ethics experts and experts in the False Claims Act confirming that Mr. Perez’s handing of the Magner and Newell cases was both ethical and appropriate.  As Professor Stephen Gillers, who has taught legal ethics for more than 30 years at New York University School of Law, wrote in one of these letters, Mr. “Perez’s actions in these cases “violate[d] no ethical rule that governs lawyers. He was acting in what he believed to be the best interests of his client, which is what lawyers are required to do.”

“In short, Mr. Perez did his job at DOJ, and he did it well.  When it comes down to it, I think that fact is the source of most of the controversy surrounding his nomination -- some people don’t like Tom Perez precisely because he is passionate about enforcing our civil rights laws and has vigorously pursued such enforcement in his current position. 

“I take great issue with the Minority Leader’s suggestion that Mr. Perez doesn’t follow the law or believe that it applies to him.  I would respectfully suggest that the Minority Leader needs to check his facts.  To the contrary, Tom Perez has had a remarkable career as a result of a determination to make the promise of our civil rights statutes a reality for everyday Americans.  Those are the same laws that I think my Republican colleagues sometimes would like to forget are on the books.  But these laws matter.  Voting rights matter.  Fair housing rights matter.  The rights of people with disabilities matter.  These laws are part of what makes our country great, and I am incredibly proud of the work that Mr. Perez has done at the Department of Justice to make these rights a reality again after years of neglect.  He should be applauded, not vilified, for the service he has provided to this country. 

“I can assure you, that the HELP Committee will vote next week on Mr. Perez’s nomination, regardless of what further roadblocks are thrown in the path to his confirmation, and I plan to do everything in my power to confirm Mr. Perez to the critical role of Labor Secretary as soon as possible.”