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Public Statements

Defense Appropriations

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, D.C.


Mr. COBURN. Madam President, I rise today to express my serious concerns about the nomination of Mr. Tom Perez to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. First, given his affiliation with CASA de Maryland, an extreme immigrant advocacy organization for which he served as president of the board, I am concerned that he will utilize the Civil Rights Division to undermine immigration enforcement.

Second, Mr. Perez has made statements indicating that he believes health care is a civil right and he has a disturbing view of the responsibilities of health care providers. Third, his views on a Clinton-era executive order requiring health care providers to provide services and documents in languages other than English infringes on the right of States to declare English as the official State language. Finally, though not directly related to Mr. Perez's qualifications, I am deeply troubled by the Department of Justice's failure to respond to legitimate requests for information by the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights regarding the Department's decision earlier this year to dismiss the New Black Panthers voter intimidation case.

I know some of my colleagues have more thoroughly discussed Mr. Perez's positions on immigration issues, but I want to briefly mention some of my concerns. Mr. Perez served on the board of CASA Maryland from 1995-2002 and as president of the board from 2001-2002. CASA provides assistance to Latinos and immigrants in Maryland; it also promotes day labor sites, opposes restrictions on immigrants receiving driver's licenses, and supports in-State tuition for immigrants. More concerning, CASA has been criticized for issuing a pamphlet that instructed immigrants targeted by Federal authorities on what to do if they are arrested or detained. The Washington Times ran an article on the brochure, noting that it ``features cartoonlike drawings of armed black and white police officers escorting Hispanic men in handcuffs and shows babies crying because their fathers are behind bars.'' I have concerns about Mr. Perez's lengthy association with an organization that advocates these extreme positions.

I also believe Mr. Perez has a disturbing view of the health care system and particularly of the responsibilities of health care providers. Mr. Perez has made statements indicating that he believes health care is a civil right. He also has said that health care providers receiving Federal funds must provide services in languages other than English or risk forfeiture of those funds due to title VI of the Civil Rights Act and a Clinton-era executive order directing Federal departments and agencies to ensure that those with limited English proficiency, LEP, are given meaningful access to programs and activities conducted by the Federal Government or by recipients of Federal funds. I would note that this executive order was not enforced by the Bush administration. I disagree with Mr. Perez's interpretation of the Civil Rights Act, and in 2006, I offered an amendment to immigration legislation to repeal the executive order. After I offered that amendment, Mr. Perez wrote an article in which he stated that I had a ``distressing disregard for the doctor-patient relationship,'' and that I would ``undermine meaningful communication between doctors and patients--thus relegating those who do not speak English to a lower rung of our health care system.''

After all my years of practicing medicine, I take offense at someone stating that I have a ``distressing disregard'' for the doctor-patient relationship. I have treated numerous patients who do not speak English and found ways to communicate with them. Often these patients have family members who speak some English or they find other ways to communicate. There is no reason to burden health care providers with the expense of having to provide services in languages other than English.

Following the Judiciary Committee vote on his nomination, Senators SESSIONS, CARDIN, and I met privately with Mr. Perez to discuss my concerns about his positions on health care issues, and not only did he not alleviate my concerns, but he also made no effort to apologize for his incendiary comments. I believe Mr. Perez fails to understand how the executive order undermines patient care, and I fear this lack of understanding will affect similar policies he will implement if he is confirmed to head the Civil Rights Division.

Although Mr. Perez clearly has a passion for limited English--proficiency individuals, I am afraid this passion clouds his judgment as it pertains to health care treatment and costs and will affect his judgment as the head of the Civil Rights Division. As proof, I offer the following example. In 2002, the Office of Management and Budget, OMB, issued a study which stated, ``we anticipate that the cost of LEP assistance, both to government and to the United States economy, could be substantial, particularly if the Executive Order is implemented in a way that does not provide uniform, consistent guidance to the entities it covers ..... provision of language services could be most costly for the healthcare sector.'' In contrast, Mr. Perez has stated that he does ``not believe that Executive Order 13166 has a fiscal impact on State or Federal Governments because it imposes no new requirements on them.'' This lack of judgment is concerning to me.

In addition to my disagreement with Mr. Perez on the treatment of health care as a civil right, his views on the Clinton-era executive order requiring health care providers to provide services and documents in languages other than English infringes on the right of States to declare English as the official State language. Specifically, the current acting assistant attorney general for the Office of Civil Rights sent a preemptive letter to Oklahoma's attorney general, threatening prosecution and retraction of Federal funds if Oklahoma enacted a constitutional amendment pending before the State legislature at that time, which would declare English as the official State language. It is unprecedented for DOJ to send such a preemptive letter. Approximately 30 other States have English-only policies, and, to my knowledge, none of these States has received such a letter. Three of those States have laws similar to the Oklahoma proposal. Thus, this letter to Oklahoma was not directed against its current law, but aimed at preventing such a law from being enacted because DOJ views it as possibly violating civil rights laws. Subsequently, the Oklahoma Legislature passed the amendment, and it will be presented to the people for approval in 2010.

I am disturbed that in written questions for the record, Mr. Perez affirmed the Department's position. I asked Mr. Perez if it would be appropriate for the Office of Civil Rights to send such a preemptive letter, and he stated ``if the Civil Rights Division believes that a state's `English Only' provisions do not comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it would be appropriate for it to issue that sort of letter.'' He also stated that the Clinton-era executive order does not undermine ``the rights of states to declare English as their official language.'' Furthermore, Mr. Perez believes that the executive order ``does not create new obligations for states.'' As a result of the Office of Civil Rights' letter to Oklahoma, all members of the Oklahoma delegation have sent a response letter to Attorney General Holder. The letter asks him to explain why the Office of Civil Rights sent the letter to Oklahoma, whether similar letters have been sent to other States or cities with English-only policies, outline what type of funding would be denied to Oklahoma if the law was enacted, and whether this preemptive letter-writing process is DOJ's policy. To date, the State of Oklahoma has not received a response. Without such explanation, it appears that Oklahoma was specifically targeted in a political maneuver by DOJ since there was no Oklahoma law enacted that violated civil rights laws at the time it sent the letter.

In his writings, Mr. Perez also has advocated for affirmative action in admissions to health care schools because he believes minority applicants are more likely to work in underserved populations. On March 30, 2009, Linda Chavez--former Staff Director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1983-1985, and Secretary of Labor nominee--wrote an article critical of Mr. Perez's arguments for race-conscious admissions policies for health professions schools. She notes that in one article, Mr. Perez ``cited a handful of studies that purport to show that minority doctors are more likely to provide medical care to underserved poor minority populations than white physicians are. He then leapt to the conclusion that the best way to improve access to medical care for underserved populations was to insist that medical schools use race or ethnicity in choosing which students to admit.'' She claims that this appears to be an argument in support of ``a form of medical apartheid in which minority patients should be served by minority doctors under the presumption that both groups benefit from this practice.'' She calls this argument ``insulting and dangerous'' and notes that ``doctors who primarily treat patients enrolled in government programs are less likely than those with private insurance to have passed demanding board certification in their specialties and to have access to high-quality specialists in other fields. Under Perez's rationale, it shouldn't matter whether the doctors who serve poor people are less likely to be board-certified so long as they are black or brown.'' She further notes, ``Perez's solution to the problem is to lower standards even further so that more under-qualified minority physicians are admitted to practice medicine. Medical schools already admit black and, to a lesser degree, Hispanic students with lower qualifications than whites or Asians.''

Finally, I am deeply troubled by the Justice Department's failure to respond to legitimate requests for information regarding its decision not to pursue the prosecution of the New Black Panther Party voter case. Earlier this year, House Judiciary Committee Members exchanged a series of letters with the Justice Department requesting an explanation for why the Department decided not to pursue the case against the New Black Panther Party for alleged voter intimidation that occurred in the November 2008 elections in Philadelphia. These Members sought an explanation for the dismissal of the case, which the Bush Justice Department had filed in early January 2009. The Justice Department did not respond to these inquiries until mid-July, and even then they were vague and indicated possible political interference with this case. Following the denial of this request for information, the House Members asked members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold Mr. Perez's nomination until the Department provided a more thorough response. Senator Sessions also sent a letter to the Justice Department and did not receive an acceptable response. The independent U.S. Commission on Civil Rights also has demanded that the Justice Department explain its dismissal of the lawsuit against members of the Black Panther Party and have not received a satisfactory response from DOJ.

Voter intimidation is unacceptable, and Congress deserves an explanation of the Justice Department's actions. Oversight of the Department is a legitimate function of Congress, and Members deserve an explanation rather than stonewalling. For this reason, I will vote against cloture on Mr. Perez's nomination--as a protest to this lack of cooperation. I will vote against Mr. Perez's nomination based on the aforementioned concerns about his policy positions.

Madam President, I thank Senator Cardin because he graciously arranged a meeting between myself and Senator Sessions and, I believe, Senator Kyl several months ago. There is no question that Mr. Perez is a very bright, engaging, and competent individual.

Regretfully, my concerns with his nomination were not allayed by that meeting. I think Senator Cardin has done a great job shepherding this, and I know the outcome. I still think the American people ought to hear about the concerns I have.

We are in the midst of a lot of difficulty in our country. We are struggling somewhat with our mojo, our confidence, with where we are going and how we are going to get there. A lot of it comes back to how did we ever get to the depth of problems we are having today? I think about this a lot, because I think the answer to it is the solution for how we get out of the problems we are in. Where do we go? How is it that we have an almost $12 trillion debt right now, $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities, and a budget deficit this year that, by the time you count what we stole from Social Security and
all the other trust funds, is about $1.8 trillion, and debt that will double in 5 years and triple in 10--how did we get there?

I think this nomination is a key answer for us. How we got there was building a Federal Government that has forgotten several things, but, most importantly, what the Constitution said about its real role. No. 2, it has allayed the concerns and the benefits of personal responsibility in this country.

I think Mr. Perez is a fine man, but I think his viewpoint is a disaster for the future of this country in terms of what is a civil right and what isn't. It is a civil right, according to Mr. Perez, that I have to, as a physician or a hospital or a grocery store, interpret language for anybody who would come to this country and cannot speak the language.

Our history is that people who have come to our country learned the language so they can succeed. One of the things that has made us great has been the commonality of English. The very statements Mr. Perez would make--that doctors who don't agree and health care providers who don't agree with his perception of a civil right of having somebody speak your language, no matter what it is, that they don't care about their patients and don't care about healing--is a step too far. But those are his statements.

If we are to get out of the problems we are in as a nation, it is going to take us time to relook at what made us successful. I mentioned all these other problems before, because in the Constitution--I read a letter from a constituent this morning about how my obligation for Oklahoma is to represent only Oklahoma's interests. I said, you know, that isn't the oath I took. The oath I took was to uphold the Constitution. So now we have this expansive Federal Government we are choking on, not just in terms of its costs but also in terms of how its tentacles reach into people's lives. We are getting ready to have a health care debate to enhance that by another 25 percent in terms of the reach of the Federal Government into your individual lives, and we have a nominee for the Justice Department who believes that individual responsibility and personal accountability don't fall equally across this country, it falls only on those providing services.

The other issue is the fact that 30 States have English-only language. The Justice Department this past spring and summer sent notification to the State of Oklahoma on a bill that was in the legislature, threatening the State of Oklahoma if they passed that bill. Well, 13 other States have identical bills, or laws, on what was being passed in the legislature in Oklahoma, and it will come to a vote of the people. So the legislature passed it, and it will come to the vote of the people this November. But they sent a threatening letter. They won't answer our letter asking how many other States have you sent that letter to. They didn't. It was about discussing whether an individual has any personal responsibility to be able to communicate.

Finally, we have the Justice Department refusing to answer questions about true voter intimidation and the dropping of a case where that occurred. You cannot be on both sides of the civil rights issue. You can't say it is good over here but not over there. Denying people or manipulating voters has as great an impact on individual civil rights as any other thing.

I come to the floor not to say Mr. Perez is not a fine man. But it is his kind of thinking that expands well beyond what our Founders ever thought was a guaranteed civil right. I readily admit that our Founders were wrong on several of those issues. But when we expand it beyond the case, that goes away from personal responsibility and accountability. There is a balance, and we need to protect everybody's civil rights in this country. We are having a human rights hearing in the Judiciary Committee right now on some of these very issues.

Mr. Perez's extreme views, in fact, are that if States have English-only laws, he will go after that, and if we don't have the same viewpoint he has, rather than what the Constitution says and what the precedent from court hearings says, I think that will not lead to an outcome that will be favorable for our country.

I will finish up by saying our problems are gigantic.

They are not simple. There are not simple answers.

The condition in which we find ourselves is from excess--whether it is excess earmarking, excess program, lack of oversight, or the excess of one hardened position over a balanced system that protects human rights but also does not destroy our system. I believe although Mr. Perez is qualified, his foundational biases should eliminate him from this position.

I again thank my colleague from Maryland. He has been very accommodating during this course. I had lifted previously my hold on Mr. Perez, and I think he knows that. But I am concerned with the direction of his leadership and what it will mean in terms of where we go as a country.

I yield the floor.


Mr. COBURN. Will the Senator yield for a question?

Mr. CARDIN. I am glad to yield.

Mr. COBURN. Through the Chair, I ask the Senator, my problem is not with that; I agree with the Senator on that. My question is as we carry out expansion beyond that in terms of Executive orders that are not in the law but are Executive orders that we have never ruled on, and then we are going to consider that.

Specifically I ask him, does he recognize the estimated $6 billion cost in the health care system if, in fact, Mr. Perez's interpretation of that Executive order was carried to its fullest extent by making translation services available to anybody of any language at any time throughout the whole country? That would be my question. I appreciate his thought.

Mr. CARDIN. Madam President, I thank my colleague for the question. Tom Perez, in our discussions, said he would clearly use a reasonable standard. I might point out that the Executive order to which the Senator is referring was strengthened both under the Clinton administration and Bush administration. President Bush's administration also believed this was an important provision. The Senator is correct.

I also point out in regard to the understanding of English, Tom Perez comes from an immigrant family and believes very strongly that everyone should learn English; that it is an important part of our country. He has expressed that openly. He also has indicated that we should be doing more to help immigrant families be competent in English.


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