The Senate voted 60-40 Wednesday, narrowly ending debate on the controversial nomination of Tom Perez to be secretary of Labor.
Republicans agreed to hold an up-or-down vote on his nomination as part of a deal to avoid Senate rule changes limiting the minority's right to filibuster executive branch nominees.
The close vote — 60 votes were needed to move the nomination forward — came after several GOP senators complained that Perez has engaged in “ethically questionable” actions while heading the Civil Rights division of the Department of Justice.
GOP Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Susan Collins (Maine), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), John McCain (Ariz.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) voted with Democrats to advance Perez in his nomination process. There will be 30 hours of debate before a final vote on Perez's nomination unless time is yielded back, meaning the vote could happen as early as Thursday evening.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) urged his Republican colleagues to ignore the deal made to allow up-or-down votes on several of Obama’s executive branch nominees.
“This is the Labor department,” Rubio shouted on the Senate floor. “I am shocked that there are members of my own conference that are willing to go forward on this nominee.”
Rubio said Perez failed to answer lawmakers’ questions during his confirmation hearing.
“We’re being asked to vote to invoke cloture on the nomination of someone who has open contempt to a congressional subpoena,” Rubio said. “This is wrong. How can we possibly — I don’t care what deal was cut — how can we move forward on someone who hasn’t provided information asked for by a congressional committee?”
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said Rubio’s claim that Perez is violating a congressional subpoena is “just plain wrong.” Harkin said Perez submitted the 35 emails in question to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and that the Department of Justice now has the emails from his personal account on file.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) defended Perez’s history of public service.
“Tom Perez has a long history of public service,” Cardin said. “He is a good person who is in public service for the right reasons. … As secretary of Labor, he will use that position to provide the balance we need in our commercial communities … so everyone can benefit from our great economy.”
Republicans have accused Perez of intervening in two court cases for his own "political agenda."