Despite strong opposition from Republicans, former Department of Justice official Thomas Perez became the Labor Secretary – and the only Latino currently serving in President Barack Obama’s cabinet.
Dominican-Americans expressed pride over the first one from their community serving in a cabinet-level post.
“This is a watershed moment in the experience of Dominicans in the U.S. and announces to the country, we will be active in this country at a national level for generations to come," said New York City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez.
The 54-46 party-line vote marked the third top administration vacancy that the Senate has filled in three days. The sudden movement follows this week's bipartisan deal in which Republicans agreed to stop blocking votes on seven nominations, and Democrats agreed to stop trying to change Senate rules to weaken the minority GOP's powers.
Obama called Perez an embodiment of the American dream.
“Tom has lived the American dream himself, and has dedicated his career to keeping it within reach for hardworking families across the country,” Obama said in a statement. “At the Department of Labor, Tom will help us continue to grow our economy, help businesses create jobs, make sure workers have the skills those jobs require, and ensure safe workplaces and economic opportunity for all.”
The executive director of CASA de Maryland, the state’s largest Latino rights organization, and for which Perez once served as president of the board of directors, said his selection would be an asset for U.S. workers.
As board president, the CASA statement said, “he led a period of unprecedented growth and maturation of programming.”
“Tom’s capacity to match organizational mission with high performing structure and staff is legendary locally and nationally,” said Gustavo Torres, CASA Executive Director. “Workers in America are lucky to have an advocate and change-maker like Tom as Secretary of Labor.”
Soon after the confirmation was announced, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, released a statement saying he was "disappointed."
"Mr. Perez’s record indicates a lack of respect for the rule of law in his efforts to reach a misguided definition of ‘justice.’ (...) I cannot support a nominee who allows the government to favor equality of outcome versus equality of opportunity, and so I voted against his confirmation."
Perez is the son of Dominican immigrants and now heads the Justice Department's civil rights division. Democrats praise him as an aggressive advocate of voting and civil rights laws, while Republicans say he is a liberal ideologue who selectively enforces laws according to his political views.
Hispanic groups immediately released statements supporting Perez's confirmation.
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Rubén Hinojosa, a Texas Democrat, said: "Mr. Perez will do wonderful things at the Department of Labor. It is a truly great day when such a dedicated civil servant is elevated to such an important and prominent position within President Barack Obama's Cabinet."
The National Association of Latino Elected Officials said in a statement: "We applaud the U.S. Senate for confirming Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas E. Perez to serve as the next Secretary of Labor. We congratulate Mr. Perez on being the first Latino to be confirmed for a cabinet position in the President’s second term and look forward to working with him in this new position."
Republicans considered Perez too liberal and ideological. GOP senators suggested that politics has guided his decisions about enforcing voting rights laws and have accused him of supporting efforts to sidestep federal immigration laws when he was a local government official in Maryland.
"Tom Perez is more than just some left-wing ideologue — he's a left-wing ideologue who appears perfectly willing to bend the rules to achieve his ends," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
“This is reflective not of some passionate left-winger who views himself as patiently advancing policies within the bounds of a democratic system but as a crusading ideologue whose convictions lead him to believe that the law simply doesn’t apply to him.”
On Wednesday, the Senate voted narrowly to end a filibuster against Perez. All but six Republicans voted against Perez — the exact number of GOP senators that majority Democrats needed to muster the 60 votes required to end the delaying tactic against Perez's nomination.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.