Perez navigates Senate panel, faces uphill battle to confirmation

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) has said he will block the nomination and, on Thursday, 42 House Republicans sent a letter to senators urging them to vote against Perez who they argue has "ignored the law when it suited his political agenda."

"Thomas Perez has a long and alarming track record of ignoring the law when it suits his radical agenda, and he is entirely unfit to assume the power and responsibility that comes with a cabinet level post as the Secretary of the Department of Labor,” said Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise on release of the letter. 

House and Senate Republicans argue that Perez brokered an unethical deal in convincing the city of St. Paul, Minn., to drop a Supreme Court appeal that would have had a potentially adverse effect on discrimination cases in exchange for keeping the Justice Department from intervening in two whistleblower cases they say could have brought the U.S. government upward of $200 million in damages. 

St. Paul city officials said at the time, in February 2012, that while it would have probably won the case it might have resulted in the elimination of the disparate impact theory and risked the outcome of civil rights cases nationwide. 

Panel ranking member Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) pressed Perez on why he would miss an opportunity to return millions of dollars to U.S. taxpayers by failing to intervene in the cases. 

Perez said that, ultimately, the Newell case against St. Paul was dismissed by a court. That was after Justice Department officials determined that the case lacked merit. 

He said the decision to not intervene was made by others with that authority, including former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Michael Hertz who was considered an expert on whistleblower cases. 

Perez said Hertz had a "visceral reaction" when he met with city officials about the case and reportedly said, "this case sucks" in determining not to intervene. 

But Alexander argued that when the Justice Department gets involved in whistleblower cases 90 percent of the time the case succeeds and that Perez had a duty to the government to collect and not "leave the whistleblower in wind."

Perez insisted that he and his office had the best interests of the U.S. in mind and "kicked the tires on this case and made a very considered judgment that it was a weak case"  that was eventually dismissed by the court. He said if the Justice Department had intervened it would have been dismissed sooner and Newell would not "have gotten his day in court."

A dismissed case meant that the "value of the lost case was zero," he told Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) during questioning. 

Perez also said that in applying disparate impact in some housing discrimination cases, he has gained $600 million from banks that had violated housing laws, all of which goes to homeowners who harmed by wrongful foreclosures. 

Perez told Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) that his division had brought in millions of dollars, more last year than in the prior 23 years combined. 

Specifically, he said $50 million has been returned to servicemembers over shoddy foreclosure practices. 

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) joined House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) in expressing concern about emails Perez sent to reporters that he said included "non-public" information that "could move markets." 

Burr argued that Perez told reporters in advance about settlements being reached in cases, including when Justice officials would announce them. 

But Perez said that the agency's press office had already started to inform the media on the issue and he was not running ahead of that effort. 

"My recollection of situation is that efforts by the press office were made to announce that," Perez said. "I don't believe it's non-public."

Issa sent another letter to Perez this week asking him to respond to a subpoena issued week ago for copies of any of those emails, saying he used his private account to leak the information. 

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) suggested Perez comply with the subpoena. 

But the nominee said he was "frankly surprised" to receive the subpoena last week because his office has been "cooperative in connection" with the case and, so far, has provided 1,400 documents. He said congressional staff were at his offices on Wednesday to review documents. 

Hatch said he was not aware of that.