Perez to be announced as Obama's choice for labor secretary

Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, testifies before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington March 29, 2011.
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President Obama will announce that he's officially nominating Thomas Perez to be the next secretary of labor today. CBS News had reported on March 8 that Perez was to be Mr. Obama's choice for the post.

The 51-year-old Perez is popular throughout the labor movement and earned prominence as Maryland Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's labor secretary. He also has strong backing in the West Wing and those close to the White House expect Perez to elevate the visibility of the Labor Department on a range of issues, if he is confirmed by the Senate.

"Tom's commitment to preserving the American dream is rooted in his own life experience," a White House official said in a statement. "The son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, his father passed away when Tom was just 12 years old. Tom's parents taught him and his 4 siblings to work hard, aim high, and always give back to the community."

Some Democrats look for the new labor secretary to intensify the White House push for an increase in the minimum wage. President Obama called for an increase in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $9.00 per hour by 2015, with automatic yearly inflation adjustments after that. The president first proposed the wage increase in his State of the Union address. The issue has received scant White House attention since then.

In his 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama promised to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2011. His less-aggressive approach now has drawn some criticism on the left. Perez may breathe some life into the effort.

Perez is currently serving in the civil rights division of the Justice Department. He would replace Hilda Solis and satisfy requests from Latino groups for representation in Mr. Obama's second-term cabinet.

He is sure to be questioned during his confirmation hearings about his time as head of Justice's civil rights division, especially after a report from the department's inspector general questioned his testimony in a recent civil rights lawsuit.

The report said 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 also concluded that Perez did not intentionally mislead the commission.

"We found that Perez's testimony did not reflect the entire story regarding the involvement of political appointees," said the report released last week.

"We did not find that Perez intentionally misled the commission," said the inspector general. "Nevertheless, given he was testifying as a department witness before the commission, we believe that Perez should have sought more details ... about the nature and extent of the participation of political employees in the NBPP decision in advance of his testimony before the commission."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.