WASHINGTON — Thomas Perez, President Barack Obama’s choice for Labor secretary, has used his perch as the nation’s chief civil rights enforcer to crack down on voter suppression, discrimination and police brutality.
Labor advocates and civil rights groups expect him to bring the same aggressive mindset to the Labor Department, raising the agency’s profile and playing a more prominent role in the Cabinet than Hilda Solis, who left the post in January.
Obama nominated Perez to head the department on Monday, calling him a “consensus builder” whose “story reminds us of this country’s promise.”
“Tom’s made protecting that promise for everybody the cause of his life,” Obama said in an appearance with Perez in the White House East Room.
Perez interspersed some Spanish into his remarks as he thanked Obama for the nomination. He is the only Hispanic so far to be named to Obama’s second-term Cabinet.
“Our nation still faces critical economic challenges, and the department’s mission is as important as ever,” Perez said.
The son of Dominican immigrants who once worked as a garbage collector, Perez has led the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division since 2009. If confirmed by the Senate, he would take over the Labor Department as Obama pushes several worker-oriented initiatives, including an overhaul of immigration laws and an increase in the minimum wage.
But he could face spirited opposition from some Republicans lawmakers who say his tenure at Justice has been guided too much by political ideology.