August 05, 2013

Nomination Of Tom Perez – Secretary Of Labor Floor Statement Of Senator Benjamin L. Cardin

Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, I have listened very carefully to my friend from Iowa, and I couldn't disagree with him more. I know he has very strong views about the nomination of Tom Perez, but let me go through the record.

   I wish to spend a little bit of time speaking first about Tom Perez. I know him very well. We have served together in government in Maryland. He served on the county council of Montgomery County. I will mention that he was the first Latino to serve on the county council of Montgomery County. Montgomery County, which is very close to here, is larger than some of our States. It is a large government. It has very complex problems. He served with great distinction on the county council.

   As the Presiding Officer knows, it is a very difficult responsibility to serve local government. One has to deal with the day-to-day problems of the people in the community. He served with such distinction that he was selected to be the president of the county council, the head of the county council of Montgomery County.

   He then went on to become the Secretary of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation under Governor O'Malley in the State of Maryland, which is a very comparable position to which President Obama has appointed him as Secretary of Labor in his Cabinet.

   It is very interesting that as Secretary of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, he had to deal with very difficult issues--issues that can divide groups. But, instead, he brought labor and business together and resolved many issues.

   It is very interesting, in his confirmation process, business leaders and labor leaders came forward to say this is the right person at the right time to serve as Secretary of Labor in the Obama administration.

   I held a press briefing with the former head of the Republican party in Maryland and he was very quick to point out that Tom Perez and he did not agree on a lot of policy issues, but he is a professional, he listens, and tries to make the right judgment. That is why he should be confirmed as Secretary of Labor. That was the former head of the Republican party in Maryland who made those statements a few months ago.

   Tom Perez has a long history of public service. He served originally in the Department of Justice in many different capacities. He started in the Department of Justice. He served in the Civil Rights Division and, of course, later became the head of the Civil Rights Division. He helped us in the Senate, serving as a staff person for Senator Kennedy.

   I think the greatest testimony of his effectiveness is how he has taken the Civil Rights Division from a division that had lost a lot of its glamour, a lot of its objectivity under the previous administration, and is returning the Department of Justice to that great institution to protect the rights of all Americans.

   Look at his record in the Department of Justice: Enforcement of the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The division convicted 141 defendants on hate crimes charges in 4 years. That is a 74-percent increase over the previous 4 years. The division brought 194 human trafficking cases. That is a 40-percent increase.

   You could talk a good deal about what happened between 2004 and 2008 with Countrywide Financial Corporation, one of the Nation's largest residential mortgage lenders, engaging in systematic discrimination against African-American and Latino borrowers by steering them into subprime loans or requiring them to pay more for their mortgages. I know the pain that caused. I met with families who should have been in traditional mortgages who were steered into subprime loans, and they lost their homes. Tom Perez represented them in one of the largest recoveries ever. The division's settlement in 2011 required Bank of America--now the owner of Countrywide--to provide $335 million in monetary relief to the more than 230,000 victims of discriminatory lending--the largest fair lending settlement in history.

   That is the record of Tom Perez as the head of the Civil Rights Division.

   The division investigated Wells Fargo Bank, the largest residential home mortgage lender in the United States, alleging that the bank engaged in a nationwide pattern or practice of discrimination against minority borrowers placed, again, in subprime loans. The division's settlement--the largest per-victim recovery ever reached in a division lending discrimination case--required Wells Fargo to pay more than $184 million to compensate discrimination victims and to make a $50 million investment in a home buyer assistance program.

   I could go on and on and on about the record Tom Perez has in his public service--at the county level, at the State level, and at the Federal level. He has devoted his career to public service and has gotten the praise of conservatives and progressives, Democrats and liberals, and business leaders and labor leaders. That is the person we need to head the Department of Labor.

   So let my spend a few minutes talking about Senator Grassley's two points that he raises as to why we should deny confirmation of the nomination of Tom Perez, the President's choice for his Cabinet.

   He talked about the fact that Tom Perez has not answered all the information Senator Grassley would like to see from a House committee--a partisan effort in the House of Representatives. It is not the only case. There is hardly a day or a week that goes by that there is not another partisan investigation in the House of Representatives. That is the matter the Senator from Iowa was talking about--not an effort that we try to do in this body, in the Senate, to work bipartisanly when we are doing investigations. This has been a partisan investigation.

   Thousands of pages of documents have been made available to congressional committees by the Department of Justice. So let's get the record straight as to compliance. The Department of Justice, Tom Perez, has complied with the reasonable requests of the Congress of the United States and spent a lot of time doing that. It is our responsibility for oversight, and we have carried out our responsibility for oversight. Any balanced review of the work done by the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division will give the highest marks to Tom Perez on restoring the integrity of that very important division in the Department of Justice.

   Let me talk about the second matter Senator Grassley brings up, and that deals with the City of St. Paul case--one case. It dealt with the city of St. Paul in the Supreme Court Magner case.

   Senator Grassley points out, and correctly so, this is a disparate impact case. It not only affects the individual case that is before the Court, it will have an impact on these types of cases generally. When you are deciding whether to litigate one of these cases, you have to make a judgment as to whether this is the case you want to present to the Court to make a point that will affect not only justice for the litigant but for many other litigants. You have to decide the risk of litigation versus the benefit of litigation. You have to make some tough choices as to whether the risk is worth the benefit.

   In this case, the decision was made, not by Tom Perez, not by one person. Career attorneys were brought into the mix, and career attorneys--career attorneys--advised against the Department of Justice interceding in this case. HUD lawyers thought this was not a good case for the United States to intercede.

   Senator Grassley says: Well, this was a situation where there was a quid pro quo. It was not. There was a request that the United States intercede and dismiss. Tom Perez said: No, we are not going to do that. The litigation went forward. So a professional decision was made based upon the best advice, gotten by career attorneys--attorneys from the agency that was directly affected by the case that was before the Court--and a decision was made that most objective observers will tell you was a professional judgment that is hard to question. It made sense at the time.

   I understand Senator Grassley has a concern about the case. People can come to different conclusions. But look at the entire record of Tom Perez. I think he made the right decision in that case. But I know he has a proud record of leadership on behalf of the rights of all Americans, and that is the type of person we should have as Secretary of Labor.

   Tom Perez has been through confirmation before. He was confirmed by the Judiciary Committee to serve as the head of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. Thorough vetting was done at that time. Questions were asked, debate was held on the floor of the Senate, and by a very comfortable margin he was confirmed to be the head of the Civil Rights Division.

   Now the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee has held a hearing on Tom Perez to be Secretary of Labor. They held a vote several months ago and reported him favorably to the floor. It is time for us to have an up-or-down vote on the President's nomination for Secretary of Labor. I hope all my colleagues would vote to allow this nomination to be voted up or down.

   I was listening to my distinguished friend from Iowa. I heard nothing that would deny us the right to have a vote on a Presidential nomination. That is the first vote we are going to have on whether we are going to filibuster a Cabinet position for the President of United States and a person whose record is distinguished with a long record of public service--and a proven record.

   Then the second vote is on confirmation, and Senators may disagree. I respect every Senator to do what he or she thinks is in the best interests. But I would certainly hope on this first vote, when we are dealing with whether we are going to filibuster a President's nomination for Secretary of Labor, that we would get the overwhelming support of our colleagues to allow an up-or-down vote on Tom Perez to be the next Secretary of Labor.

   I started by saying I have known Tom Perez for a long time, and I have. I know he is a good person, a person who is in public service for the right reasons, a person who believes each individual should be protected under our system, and that as Secretary of Labor he will use that position to bring the type of balance we need in our commercial communities to protect working people and businesses so the American economy can grow and everyone can benefit from our great economy.

   I urge my colleagues to support this nomination and certainly to support moving forward on an up-or-down vote on the nomination to be Secretary of Labor.