On Monday morning, President Obama announced his nomination of Buffalo native and Canisius alum Thomas Perez for Secretary of Labor, who is currently the Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. The President praised Perez’ immigrant roots, his career as a public servant, and his work at the Justice Department. The nomination gives Republicans the opportunity to chew on one of their favorite bones, their years-long effort to tie President Obama to the tens of members of the New Black Panther Party.
Appearing in the East Room of the White House, the President began by thanking outgoing Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, then praised his nominee as a true American success story. “Like so many Americans, Tom knows what it’s like to climb the ladder of opportunity,” President Obama said. “He is the son of Dominican immigrants. He helped pay his way through college as a garbage collector and working at a warehouse. He went on to become the first lawyer in his family. So his story reminds us of this country’s promise, that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, what your last name is — you can make it if you try.”
He went on to praise Perez’ work as a civil rights attorney, aide to late Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), and Maryland Labor Secretary, as well as Perez’ work in his current post. “In his current role as the head of the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division,” the President said, “Tom has fought to open pathways into the workforce for everyone willing to contribute, including people with disabilities, LGBT Americans, and immigrants. And he has helped settle some of the largest cases ever on behalf of families targeted by unfair mortgage lending.”
Perez spoke briefly, as well, revisiting the theme of preserving the opportunities that benefited him. “My parents taught my four siblings and me to work hard, to give back to our community, and to make sure that the ladder of opportunity was there for those coming after us,” Perez said. “Over my career, I’ve learned that true progress is possible if you keep an open mind, listen to all sides, and focus on results. I look forward to taking these lessons with me, if confirmed, to my new role as Secretary of the Department of Labor.”
Unmentioned in the President’s remarks was Thomas Perez’ tangential role in the extremely tangential New Black Panthers case, an issue which Republicans brought up during Perez’ confirmation for his current post, in 2009. Although only four years have passed since then, it’s a different time now, with Republicans desperately trying to shed the minority-unfriendly image that helped send their presidential nominee to defeat in November. It will be interesting to see if they can resist renewing one of the more nakedly racist attacks on President Obama, or take a deep breath and let it go.
Here’s video of President Obama’s announcement, via C-Span:
Transcript (via The White House):
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ANNOUNCING THE NOMINATION OF THOMAS PEREZ
FOR SECRETARY OF LABOR
11:47 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.) Everybody have a seat. Have a seat. As I’ve said before, my top priority as President is doing everything we need to do to make sure that we’re growing our economy and that we’re strengthening our middle class. And as I said in my State of the Union address last month, every day we should be asking ourselves three questions. One — how do we make sure America is a magnet for good jobs? Number two — how do we equip people with the skills they need to get those jobs? And number three — how do we make sure that hard work actually pays off in a decent living?
These are the challenges that I’ve instructed my team here at the White House and in my entire Cabinet to focus on. And a position that’s instrumental to tackling these challenges is having an outstanding Secretary of Labor.
So I want to begin by thanking Hilda Solis and her entire team — (applause) — including Acting Secretary Seth Harris — (applause) — for the outstanding work that they’ve been doing over the past four years. Their efforts at the Department of Labor have given more young people a chance to earn new skills, more returning vets the chance to find a job. They’ve looked out for worker safety from construction sites to coal mines. They’ve stood up for workers’ rights to organize, women’s rights to get paid equally for the work that they do. They’ve done an extraordinary job fighting on behalf of working families across the board.
And today, I’m proud to nominate a leader to carry on those efforts as America’s next Secretary of Labor — Tom Perez. (Applause.)
Like so many Americans, Tom knows what it’s like to climb the ladder of opportunity. He is the son of Dominican immigrants. He helped pay his way through college as a garbage collector and working at a warehouse. He went on to become the first lawyer in his family. So his story reminds us of this country’s promise, that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, what your last name is — you can make it if you try.
And Tom has made protecting that promise — for everybody — the cause of his life. As a civil rights attorney, an aide to Senator Ted Kennedy, a member of the Montgomery, Maryland County Council, Tom fought for a level playing field where hard work and responsibility are rewarded and working families can get ahead.
And this is not the first time that he’s chosen to be a labor secretary, either. We’ve got here today Governor Martin O’Malley, and Martin appointed Tom as Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Labor, where he helped implement the country’s first statewide living-wage law, because he understood that a minimum wage should be a wage that you can live on.
In his current role as the head of the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Tom has fought to open pathways into the workforce for everyone willing to contribute, including people with disabilities, LGBT Americans, and immigrants. And he has helped settle some of the largest cases ever on behalf of families targeted by unfair mortgage lending.
Now, while he’s tackled plenty of tough issues, Tom has also spent a career as a consensus-builder. He’s worked with CEOs, he’s worked with labor leaders. He’s worked at federal, state, and local government levels. And throughout, he understands that our economy works best when the middle class and those working to get into the middle class have the security they need on the job, a democratic voice in the workplace, everybody playing by the same set of rules.
So Tom’s knowledge and experience will make him an outstanding Secretary of Labor. And there’s plenty of work to do. We’re going to have to work very hard to make sure that folks find jobs with good wages and good benefits. We’ve got to make sure that our veterans who are returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan have a chance to put their incredible skills and leadership to work at home. We need to build an immigration system that works for every employee and every family and every business. I’m confident that Tom is going to be able to work to promote economic growth, but also make sure that that growth is broad-based. And he’s going to be an integral part of our overall economic team.
So these are just a few of the many challenges working families out there are facing and where they need an advocate, and Tom is the right person for that job. So I hope that the Senate will act swiftly to confirm Tom so we can work together to address all these concerns. I want to thank not only Tom but his wonderful family for agreeing to take on this new role. I just heard that Tom has been coaching basketball and baseball. He doesn’t claim to be a great coach — (laughter) — but he brings passion to it. He may end up missing a few of the games over the next several months, but it’s going to be for a good cause. And I appreciate his family being willing to make these sacrifices as well.
So with that, I would like to introduce my nominee to be our next Secretary of Labor, give him a chance to say a few words. And, again, I’d urge the Senate to confirm him as quickly as possible.
Mr. Tom Perez. (Applause.)
MR. PEREZ: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. President, for your confidence in me. (Speaks in Spanish.) It is a remarkably humbling and exciting phenomenon to be here today.
My parents taught my four siblings and me to work hard, to give back to our community, and to make sure that the ladder of opportunity was there for those coming after us. Over my career, I’ve learned that true progress is possible if you keep an open mind, listen to all sides, and focus on results. I look forward to taking these lessons with me, if confirmed, to my new role as Secretary of the Department of Labor.
As you well know, our nation still faces critical economic challenges, and the Department’s mission is as important as ever. I am confident that together with our partners in organized labor, the business community, grassroots communities, Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike, we can keep making progress for all working families.
In the coming weeks, as the confirmation process unfolds, I look forward to meeting with senators of both parties to discuss the Labor Department’s key role — protecting and growing the middle class.
I’ll close again, Mr. President, by thanking you once again for this tremendous opportunity. (Speaks in Spanish.) I look forward to this opportunity to continue serving our nation.
Thank you so much. (Applause.)
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