Obama taps Thomas Perez as labor secretary

Updated: 1:28 p.m. ET

More than two months after Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced her resignation, President Obama this morning nominated Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez to succeed her as the head of the Labor Department, lauding the longtime government employee for having "fought for a level playing field where hard work and responsibility are rewarded, and working families can get ahead" throughout his career.

Perez, former labor secretary to Gov. Martin O'Malley, D-Md., is currently serving in the civil rights division of the Justice Department. He was also the first Latino elected to the Montgomery County (Md.) Council, on which he served from 2002-2006, and served as the council's president in 2005. If confirmed, he will be the president's first Latino pick for his second-term cabinet.

"Like to many Americans, Tom knows what it's like to climb the ladder of opportunity. He's the son of Dominican immigrants. 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," Mr. Obama said. "So his story reminds us of this country's promise, that if you're willing to work hard, it doesn't matter who you are, where you come from, what your last name is, you can make it if you try."

The nominee is popular among labor groups, and some Democrats hope to see him ramp up the White House push to increase the minimum wage - an idea Mr. Obama proposed in his State of the Union address earlier this year but which has gained little traction since then.

But he's also likely to be questioned about his time as head of the justice department's civil rights division, especially after a report from the department's inspector general that questioned his testimony in a recent civil rights lawsuit. According to that report, which came out last week, Perez gave incomplete testimony to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights when he said the department's political leadership was not involved in the decision to dismiss three of the four defendants in a lawsuit the Bush administration brought against the New Black Panther Party. The report, however, concluded that Perez did not intentionally mislead the commission.

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., has already threatened to block Perez's nomination over the matter.

"Thomas Perez's record should be met with great suspicion by my colleagues for his spotty work related to the New Black Panther case, but Louisianians most certainly should have cause for concern about this nomination," said Vitter, in a statement. "Perez was greatly involved in the DOJ's partisan full court press to pressure Louisiana's Secretary of State to only enforce one side of the law - the side that specifically benefits the politics of the president and his administration at the expense of identity security of each and every Louisianian on the voter rolls."

Regardless of any potential hurdles in the confirmation process, Mr. Obama reiterated his faith in Perez's abilities and urged the Senate to approve him swiftly.

"Tom's knowledge and experience will make him an outstanding secretary of labor, and there's plenty of work to do," he said. "I'm confident that Tom's going to be able to work to promote economic growth, but also make sure that that growth is broad-based. And he's going to be an integral part of our overall economic team."

Perez, speaking after the president's announcement, thanked the president in both English and Spanish, and pledged to work with "senators of both parties" in the coming days and months.

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