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Public Statements

Nomination of Thomas Perez

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, this morning I would like to say a few words about the nomination of Thomas Perez as Labor Secretary.

The Perez nomination has generated a fair amount of controversy. For those who haven't tuned in yet to the debate surrounding his nomination, I would like to take a few minutes this morning to explain why.

The first thing to say about this nomination is that neither I nor anyone else on this side of the aisle has anything against Mr. Perez personally. As a graduate of Harvard Law School, there are a lot of things he could have done other than advocate for those struggling on the fringes of our society.

Yet when it comes to a vote such as this, we have to weigh a lot more than a nominee's intentions. We have to look at how those intentions square with the higher obligation that any nominee, but especially a Cabinet nominee, has to the rule of law. It is on this point where this nomination becomes so controversial and where the deference that Senators of both parties generally grant Presidents when it comes to picking Cabinet nominees begins to break down.

By all accounts, Tom Perez is not just a man with a heart for the poor, he is a committed ideologue who appears willing, quite frankly, to say or do anything to achieve his ideological end.

His willingness, time and again, to bend or ignore the law and misstate the facts in order to advance his far-left ideology leads me and others to conclude he would continue to do so if he were confirmed to another and much more consequential position of public trust.

Take, for instance, his efforts while on the Montgomery County Council to get Canadian drugs imported to the United States. According to the Washington Post, Perez tried to get the county to import these drugs even after--even after--a top FDA official said doing so would be, in his words, ``undeniably illegal.''

What was Perez's response? ``Federal law is muddled,'' he said at the time. ``Sometimes you have to push the envelope.''

Think about that statement. ``Sometimes you have to push the envelope.'' Is that the kind of approach to Federal law we want in those we confirm to run Federal agencies? Folks who think if a Federal law is inconvenient to their ends they can simply characterize it as unclear and use that as an excuse to do whatever they want?

If that is not a red flag for those of us who have to review a Presidential nominee, I don't know what is.

Now, again, someone might say everybody in politics has to make judgments about how a given law is to be interpreted. Those who disagree with those judgments call it pushing the envelope. Mr. Perez, however, does not merely push the envelope. All too often he circumvents or ignores a law with which he disagrees.

Here are a few examples: As a member of the Montgomery County Council, Mr. Perez pushed through a county policy that encouraged the circumvention of Federal immigration law. Later, as head of the Federal Government's top voting rights watchdog, he refused to protect the right to vote for Americans of all races, in violation of the very law he was charged to enforce.

In the same post at the Department of Justice, Perez directed the Federal Government to sue, against the advice of career attorneys in his own office. In another case involving a Florida woman who was lawfully exercising her First Amendment right to protest in front of an abortion clinic, the Federal judge who threw out Mr. Perez's lawsuit said he was ``at a loss as to why the government chose to prosecute this particular case'' in the first place.

This is what pushing the envelope means in the case of Mr. Perez--a flippant and dismissive attitude about the boundaries everyone else has to follow for the sake of the liberal causes in which he believes. In short, it means a lack of respect for the rule of law and a lack of respect for the need of those in positions of power to follow it.

Just as troubling, however, is the fact that Mr. Perez has been called to account for his failures to follow the law, and he has been less than forthright about his actions when called to account. When he testified that politics played no role in his office's decision not to pursue charges against members of a far-left group who may have tried to prevent others from voting, for instance, the Department's own watchdog said ``Perez's testimony did not reflect the entire story.'' And a Federal judge said the evidence before him ``appear[ed] to contradict ..... Perez's testimony.''

Perez has also made misleading statements about this case under oath--under oath--to Congress and the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

Mr. Perez's involvement in an alleged quid pro quo deal with the city of St. Paul, MN, also fits the pattern. Here was a case where Perez was allegedly so concerned about a potential Supreme Court challenge to the legality of a theory he championed in housing discrimination suits known as ``disparate impact,'' he quietly worked out a deal with St. Paul officials whereby they would withdraw their appeal to the Supreme Court of a disparate impact case if he arranged for the Federal Government to throw out two whistleblower complaints against St. Paul that could have recovered millions of dollars for the taxpayers that had been falsely obtained. The two whistleblowers' complaints were dropped, and the Supreme Court never heard the disparate impact case.

Perez told investigators he hadn't even heard of the disparate impact case until the Court initially decided to hear it. But that has been contradicted by HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary Sara Pratt, who told investigators she and Mr. Perez discussed the case well before that.

Taken together, all of this paints the picture, for me at least, not of a passionate liberal who sees himself as patiently operating within the system and through the democratic process to advance a particular set of strongly held beliefs but a crusading ideologue whose conviction about his own rightness on the issues leads him to believe the law does not apply to him. Unbound by the rules that apply to everyone else, Perez seems to view himself as free to employ whatever means--whatever means--at his disposal, legal or otherwise, to achieve his ideological goals.

To say this is problematic would be an understatement. As Secretary of Labor, Perez could be handling numerous contentious issues and implementing many politically sensitive laws, including laws enforcing the disclosure of political activity by labor unions. Perez's devotion to the cause of involuntary universal voter registration is also deeply concerning to me personally, and I would imagine many of my colleagues in the Senate also believe in the absolute centrality of maintaining the integrity of the vote.

Americans of all political persuasions have the right to expect the head of such a sensitive department, whether appointed by a Republican or Democrat, will implement and follow the law in a fair and reasonable way. I do not believe they could expect as much from Mr. Perez.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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