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Public Statements

Executive Session

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. HARKIN. Madam President, I am pleased we are finally at the point where we can vote on the nomination of Thomas Perez to serve as Secretary of Labor. Indeed, it seems as though the most important question before us today has gotten lost in all of the debate. Will Tom Perez be a good Secretary of Labor? The answer is unequivocally yes. There is no question that he has the knowledge and experience needed to guide this critically important agency.

His outstanding work in Maryland as their secretary of labor has won him the support of the business community and workers alike. Here is a quote from the endorsement letter from the Maryland Chamber of Commerce:

Mr. Perez proved himself to be a pragmatic public official who is 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 is a pretty strong endorsement by a chamber of commerce for a nominee whom the minority leader this morning characterized as a ``leftwing ideologue ..... willing to bend the law to achieve his ideological ends.'' That is what the minority leader said this morning. That grossly unfair characterization is manifestly inconsistent with the experiences of the Republican leaders and business leaders who have actually worked with Tom Perez. These people clearly disagree with the minority leader's assessment of Mr. Perez's qualifications and character. I am informed that the minority leader never met with Mr. Perez. Mr. Perez offered to meet with him, but the minority leader said no. Yet the minority leader comes down here and makes these kinds of judgments as to his character and his integrity?

We have heard a lot of discussion about the controversy surrounding Mr. Perez's nomination over the last couple of days on the Senate floor. His integrity and character have been viciously and unfairly attacked.

I take particular issue with the minority leader's suggestion this morning that Mr. Perez doesn't follow the law or believe it applies to him. I respectfully suggest that the minority leader needs to check his facts. Those allegations couldn't be more to the contrary. Tom Perez believes deeply in the law. He believes that all the laws on the books, especially those that protect our most important rights--the right to vote, the right to be free from discrimination in the workplace, the right of people with disabilities to live in their own communities--Tom Perez believes strongly that these rights should be respected and enforced. These are the same laws that I sometimes think some on the Republican side 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. And Tom Perez has fought for that.

We shouldn't shy away from using every tool in our arsenal to strengthen our enforcement of civil rights laws. These laws are part of what makes our country great. I am incredibly proud of the work 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.

He is a leader whose career has involved passionate and visionary work for justice. Yes, he has had to make difficult decisions. He has faced management challenges. As we now know, he has been the target of accusations, mudslinging, and character assassination. I have looked carefully into Mr. Perez's background and record of service, as the chair of the authorizing and oversight committee. I can assure Senators that Tom Perez has the strongest possible record of professional integrity and that any allegations to the contrary are unfounded. They are simply unfounded allegations. There is absolutely nothing that calls into question his ability to fairly enforce the law as it is written. There is absolutely nothing that calls into question his professional integrity, moral character, or his ability to lead the Department of Labor.

I am particularly disappointed that Republicans continue to raise concerns regarding Mr. Perez's involvement in the global resolution of two cases involving St. Paul, MN--the cases called Magner and Newell. I spoke about that at length, and Republicans have talked about it. This has been debated exhaustively. Quite frankly, there is nothing there.

This is an issue the HELP Committee and the Judiciary Committee have thoroughly examined and found no cause for concern. The House Oversight and Judiciary Committees have also thoroughly explored the underlying facts. In fact, both the majority and minority staff on the House Oversight Committee have released reports on the matter. What the reports revealed is that the evidence is clear--Mr. Perez acted ethically and appropriately at all times. Indeed, he had clearance to proceed as he did from the appropriate ethics officers at the Department of Justice. Noted experts in legal ethics have confirmed this.

There is no foundation for any allegation of wrongdoing by Mr. Perez in these cases involving St. Paul, MN. Yet they keep being drummed up. But they are just allegations. Anybody can make an allegation--especially here on the Senate floor. Members can make all kinds of allegations. I simply ask for proof. Back up those allegations. There is no proof. There is nothing to back up those allegations that somehow Mr. Perez acted unethically or in violation of law.

I am also deeply disappointed that my Republican friends are suggesting that Mr. Perez has been unresponsive to requests for information by Members of this body. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mr. Perez has been as open and aboveboard as he possibly can be with both my committee and Members of the Senate. He has met with any Member personally who requested a meeting. He requested a meeting with the minority leader, and the minority leader said no. He appeared before our committee in a public hearing. He 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 handling of the Magner and Newell cases while at the Department of Justice.

The administration has produced thousands of documents. They have arranged for the interview of government employees and access to transcripts of inspector general interviews. They have provided access to Mr. Perez's personal e-mails. They have facilitated almost unprecedented levels of disclosure to alleviate any concerns. They have responded to every request for information, including the letter by Chairman Issa that Senator Isakson submitted for the Record this morning.

I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record the response to Chairman Issa's letter from the Department of Justice at this point.

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Mr. HARKIN. In short, the Department of Justice has made all e-mails available for review. It is true Congressman Issa has continued to repeat his requests, but that doesn't mean Mr. Perez and the administration have not been responsive, because they have.

The fact is this nominee has been more than thoroughly vetted. He has the character and the integrity and the expertise to lead the Department of Labor. The President has chosen Mr. Perez to join his Cabinet, and there is absolutely no reason why the Senate should not consent to this choice.

I am proud to support Mr. Perez's nomination. He will be an asset to the Department of Labor and to our entire country. I look forward to the opportunity to work with him in his new position to help all working Americans.

I yield the floor.

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