Van Hollen: GOP attack on Labor secretary nominee a ‘witch hunt’

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) lashed out Monday at a Republican report that sharply criticized President Obama’s nominee for Labor secretary, Thomas Perez.

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“Near the eve of the Senate confirmation hearing of the Secretary of Labor nominee, Tom Perez, House Republicans have launched a witch hunt,” Van Hollen said in a statement. “I have known Tom for years and can attest to his character and his long distinguished career.”

On Sunday, Republican lawmakers released a 63-page report that was the result of a months-long investigation into Perez’s handling of a housing discrimination case from his time in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

Republicans say Perez pressured the city of St. Paul, Minn., to withdraw the case before a Supreme Court appeal, and in exchange pledged the department wouldn’t intervene in a separate whistleblower case with the potential to result in a massive windfall for St. Paul taxpayers. GOP lawmakers also charge that Perez sought to keep his role in the negotiations secret.

Perez says he acted with the knowledge of his superiors and in the best interests of the country, and he argued the housing discrimination case had broader implications that could have adversely affected the government’s ability to defend similar cases in the future.

“This is a sad state of affairs for House Republicans, who haven't been able to advance any meaningful solutions to the real challenges facing our country,” Van Hollen continued. “They’ve decided to get into the Senate’s confirmation business with the politics of personal destruction. Hopefully, the Senate will have the good sense to ignore these scurrilous attacks on an extremely qualified nominee that President Obama has selected to serve in his cabinet.”

Democrats on the House Oversight Committee unveiled their own report late Sunday, finding that Perez had “acted professionally to advance the interests of civil rights and effectively combat the scourge of housing discrimination.”

In a statement, the Justice Department defended Perez’s actions, saying they “were in the best interests of the United States and were consistent with the department's legal, ethical and professional responsibility obligations.”

“The real issue here is the GOP wants to derail a highly competent Presidential nominee from getting a cabinet position because he effectively enforced civil rights law,” Van Hollen said. “This is just the politics of personal destruction.”

In nominating Perez, Obama touted his tenure at Justice, saying he took the lead in fighting unfair mortgage lending practices, enforced human trafficking laws and fought for the working rights of veterans.

Perez currently heads the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, and would replace former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, who stepped down in January.