GOP: Labor nominee vote delayed after whistleblower invite

Senate Republicans say Democrats postponed a vote on President Obama's nominee for labor secretary after they learned that a whistleblower related to a questionable case was invited to testify at a Thursday hearing.

Georgia Republican Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonGeorgia senator discharged from hospital after fall Georgia senator hospitalized after fall Senate GOP raises concerns about White House stopgap plan to avoid shutdown MORE, a member of the panel, had asked Frederick Newell to discuss the involvement of Thomas PerezThomas Edward PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE and the Justice Department in the disposition of several housing discrimination cases in St. Paul, Minn.

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Republicans argue that Newell's testimony could have contradicted statements made by Perez, as head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, at his confirmation hearing last week, an aide told The Hill.

Republicans argue that when Democrats found out about the minority witness, they "abruptly canceled" the hearing, according to one Senate aide.

Last week, GOP committee members questioned Perez on his involvement in an agreement made between the Justice Department and city of St. Paul.

House and Senate Republicans argue that Perez brokered an unethical deal in convincing St. Paul officials 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.

Last week, the panel's ranking member, Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderThe Hill's Morning Report - How will Trump be received in Dayton and El Paso? McConnell faces pressure to bring Senate back for gun legislation Criminal justice reform should extend to student financial aid MORE (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 and would not have provided any money to the government.

That was after Justice Department officials determined that the case lacked merit.

Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinWisconsin lawmaker gets buzz-cut after vowing not to cut hair until sign language bill passed Democratic debates kick off Iowa summer sprint Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE (D-Iowa) said the subcommittee hearing was canceled because Republicans chose to, instead of examining Occupational Safety and Health Administration whistleblower laws, "use this as an opportunity to attack the President’s nominee for Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez. I chose not to allow this abuse of process," he said in a statement provided to The Hill.

"There is simply no excuse for hijacking a substantive policy discussion to attack Mr. Perez when he would not be present to defend himself, particularly when those concerns could have been aired when he appeared before the HELP Committee," Harkin said.

"I hope that in the future cooler heads will prevail, and we will be able to revisit the important question of how to keep workers safe on the job.”

Harkin reiterated that the purpose of last week's confirmation hearing was for committee members to address any concerns.

As part of the hearing's follow-up, Republicans have asked Perez to answer 175 written questions "that he is diligently in the process of answering," Harkin said.

Harkin had initially said he would hold the vote as scheduled but changed his mind on Wednesday. Republicans say the delay was forced by the recognition that Newell would testify on Thursday. 

On Monday, Alexander sent a letter asking for additional time.  He agreed with the decision that more time is needed to, at the very least, get questions answered.

"It was appropriate for the chairman to postpone the markup so that senators could get responses to a number of outstanding questions as we evaluate this nominee," Alexander said in a statement sent to The Hill.

In the letter sent on Monday, Alexander outlined several items that Republicans wanted to clear up before the vote.

The panel's Republicans asked for the Department of Housing and Urban Development to make available two witnesses for transcribed interviews regarding their involvement in a whistleblower case in which the Justice Department decided not to intervene, the letter said.

They also requested copies of the emails Perez allegedly sent from his personal email account while conducting government business and asked for the Justice Department's inspector general to provide transcripts of interviews gathered during an investigation that resulted in a March 12 report.

Perez has strong backing from Democrats, but faces considerable resistance from Senate Republicans, including Sen. David VitterDavid Bruce VitterGrocery group hires new top lobbyist Lobbying World Senate confirms Trump judge who faced scrutiny over abortion views MORE (R-La.) who is blocking the nomination.

In addition, 42 House Republicans sent a letter to senators last week urging them to vote against Perez, who they argue has "ignored the law when it suited his political agenda."

—This report was originally published at 11:55 and last updated at 2:03 p.m.