When the Senate reached an agreement this week on confirmation votes for several executive-branch nominees, it’s safe to assume Republicans had to swallow hard before accepting Thomas Perez’s nomination to lead the Labor Department. Perez is arguably the most liberal member of President Obama’s second-term cabinet – even those who condemn the president from the left were thrilled with this pick – and GOP senators clearly hoped to defeat him.
They failed, of course, but not before a Senate vote that marked a historical first.
After a last-minute deal earlier this week to avert a showdown over filibuster rules, the Senate has confirmed Tom Perez as the next Secretary of Labor. The vote was 54-46.
Praising the vote, President Barack Obama said in a statement “I want to thank the Senate once again for agreeing to move forward on Tom and the other nominees who have waited far too long for the yes-or-no votes they deserve.”
So, what’s historically unusual about this? Take a look at the roll call for today’s vote and you’ll notice something interesting: literally every member of the Senate Democratic caucus voted for Perez and literally every member of the Senate Republican caucus voted against him.
When was the last time a cabinet nominee was confirmed on a strict party-line vote? According to the office of the Senate Historian, it’s never happened before. Ever.
Republicans tried to downplay the racial angle to their opposition and stick to substance – Perez was the only Latino nominee for the administration’s second-term cabinet – but on several occasions they couldn’t help themselves. In March, for example, Rush Limbaugh drew a straight line between Perez and the “grand kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan” and also compared him to Hugo Chavez.
Fox News and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) didn’t go nearly that far, 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 reported in the spring 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.” Well, when the the headline in Spanish-language media reads, “Every GOP senator voted against Thomas Perez for Labor Sec,” the damage will likely be done.
As for what we can expect from Perez, I have high hopes for the former head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. As Adam Serwer recently explained, after Perez took the reins, “the division has blocked partisan voting schemes, cracked down on police brutality, protected gay and lesbian students from harassment, sued anti-immigrant Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio for racial profiling, stood up against Islamophobia, and forced the two largest fair-housing settlements in history from banks that discriminated against minority homeowners.” No wonder the Senate GOP was so opposed to his nomination.