Senator Tom Harkin (D., Iowa), chairman of Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee, has abruptly moved the hearing of Tom Perez from this Thursday, April 24, to May 8, according to a HELP-committee source.
When the hearing was slated for Thursday, two GOP senators were planning to vote against his confirmation. “Chances are I’ll be voting no, unless I don’t show up, and then I’d vote no by proxy,” Tim Scott of South Carolina told National Review yesterday. Similarly, Senator Richard Burr was planning to vote no, according to his office, if the vote remained this week.
Harkin also abruptly cancelled a subcommittee hearing on whistleblowers without announcing a replacement date, according to Georgia senator Johnny Isakson’s office. Isakson informed the HELP committee yesterday that Frederick Newell would be testifying at the subcommittee hearing Thursday afternoon. According to a recently released Republican committee report, Perez had helped arrange a quid pro quo with the city of St. Paul that affected Newell’s case against the municipality. In the exchange, St. Paul dropped a disparate-impact housing case slated to be heard by the Supreme Court, and the Justice Department did not help Newell with his case as they sometimes do.
Burr, along with eight other Republican senators on the committee, signed a letter requesting that the vote be delayed since Perez had, as of Monday, not yet provided answers to additional questions the senators had, nor had he released requested e-mails from his personal account that related to government business. Harkin responded Monday, saying he didn’t anticipate delaying the vote.
Scott was one of the toughest questioners of Perez during his committee hearing last week, accusing the nominee of having a management style that “seems to have a political perspective, a political bias.” Tennessee senator Lamar Alexander, the ranking Republican member on the committee, also had some harsh criticism for Perez, accusing him of “manipulating the legal process to try to get the result you want from the Supreme Court in a way that’s inappropriate for the assistant attorney general of the United States.”
But Alexander also indicated during Chuck Hagel’s appointment process as secretary of defense that he was concerned about the long-term implications of Republicans’ filibustering a cabinet nomination, and it’s likely that he remains concerned about that. After all, if a Republican president is elected in 2016, but the Senate remains Democrat-controlled, the president could face an uphill, lengthy battle to getting his cabinet nominees confirmed.
With the exception of senators Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) and David Vitter (R., La.), who have been vocal about their concerns about Perez, Senate Republicans have been fairly mum publicly about anxiety over Perez’s suitability for the cabinet position, but there have been conversations behind the scenes. “I’ve been involved in two meetings at the caucus level,” Grassley says in a brief interview, “so it’s been discussed a little bit.”
“I think it’s a case where people will vote their conscience,” he adds. He doesn’t anticipate “new concerns” emerging about Perez’s background, but predicts that the “old concerns are going to keep coming up.”
Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who was one of two Republican senators in a judiciary-committee decision to vote against confirming Perez to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, is also concerned about Perez, saying there are “a lot of issues involved in his performance as well as his positions before he came to this administration.” Specifically, Sessions continued, there were questions about the alleged St. Paul quid pro quo deal and the way Perez had handled the Black Panther voter-intimidation case.
“I think there will be a serious and in-depth evaluation of that nomination,” Sessions adds. Whether Republicans decide the best way to work against the Perez nomination is harsh rhetoric or savvy behind-the-scenes tactics (like the letter they sent about delaying the vote), it appears that the potential labor secretary still will have to clear some hurdles before a confirmation vote.