Ordinarily, committee votes on cabinet nominees wouldn’t be especially interesting, but this one was a little more important than most.
President Obama’s pick for labor secretary cleared a minor hurdle in the confirmation process Thursday as a Senate committee voted to clear the nomination of Thomas Perez for consideration by the full Senate.
Members of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee voted 12-10 along party lines, with all Republicans opposing the nomination while the Democrats supported it.
If you’re looking at your watch, thinking it’s a little early for a committee vote on a cabinet nominee, you’re correct – the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee scheduled this vote early on purpose, so as to circumvent Republican obstructionist tactics.
Last week, when the committee wanted to approve the Perez nomination, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) used a procedural motion on the Senate floor to block the vote. Committee Democrats scheduled this morning’s vote extra early so GOP senators couldn’t get in the way.
It may seem silly and childish, but then again, so is Congress.
What’s more, let’s also not forget that the objections Republicans have raised about Perez are, as Adam Serwer has reported several times, partisan nonsense.
The next question, of course, is what happens next. Perez has cleared committee, but what happens when his nomination is brought to the floor?
Senate Republicans have not formally announced their plans, but a filibuster appears extremely likely. And if that happens, there will be a couple of angles to keep an eye on, other than the obvious fate of Perez himself.
First, filibuster-reform proponents will be shouting at the top of their lungs. In recent months, we’ve already seen the first-ever filibuster of a cabinet nominee and a filibuster of a CIA nominee. Republicans have filibustered judicial nominees they don’t like and judicial nominees they do like. GOP senators have promised to use filibusters to stop the Obama administration from enforcing the law as it relates to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and to stop the president’s nominee to lead the ATF and the EPA. All of this represents a level of abuse without precedent, and blocking Perez would only add weight to the argument that the status quo is untenable.
Second, don’t overlook the significance of Republicans stepping all over their outreach to Latino voters by trying to bring down President Obama’s only new Latino cabinet nominee. “The Hispanic community is watching this closely, and it will be noted if there is an effort to block Tom’s nomination,” said National Council of La Raza President and CEO Janet Murguia. “It’s just not helpful for Republicans to be seen as taking down what is seen as a qualified candidate.”
As we discussed in March, this is not to suggest Republican critics of the administration can’t complain about a nominee they don’t like, just because he’s Latino, or that criticism of Perez is necessarily evidence of bigotry. But the nature of the criticism matters, and there’s been a definite racial angle to the right’s anti-Perez rhetoric. Simon Maloy noted:
Reacting to the [nomination], Rush Limbaugh drew a straight line between Perez and the “grand kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan” and also compared him to Hugo Chavez. It’s not difficult to see how that bumps up against the recommendations in Preibus’ report: “If we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them, and show our sincerity.”
Fox News and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) were far more circumspect in their preliminary criticism of Perez, but both relied on racially-charged lines of attack – Megyn Kelly focused on the New Black Panther case Perez didn’t oversee and Sessions complained about Perez’s work as an immigrants’ right advocate. Michele Malkin echoed a related sentiment, blasting Perez as “Obama’s nominee for secretary of (illegal alien) labor.”
Roll Call added that Republican leaders realize that if they launch a major offensive against the Labor nominee, “they risk undercutting the Republican National Committee’s brand-new diversity push and getting mired in fights over voting rights and immigration,” but they may do it anyway, out of fear of “blowback from their base.”