Perez coy on AG vacancy

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Labor Secretary Tom Perez sidestepped questions Monday about his possible selection as the nation’s next attorney general, maintaining that he has a “singular” focus on his current job.

During remarks at the National Press Club, Perez did, however, heap praise on outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder and make clear his strenuous support for the administration’s position on voting rights — an issue squarely in the province of the Justice Department.

{mosads}Perez, who ran the agency’s Civil Rights Division before President Obama tapped him for the Cabinet position, is widely seen as one of a handful of top candidates to succeed Holder.

Holder’s  announcement last month that he plans to step down from the position sparked widespread speculation about likely replacements. Among those most frequently mentioned are Perez, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr., former White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler and former Associate Attorney General Tony West.

Asked Monday to comment on the speculation — and whether he has spoken to his former boss about the job — Perez demurred. 

“We’ve got a lot of balls in the air at the Department of Labor and we’ve got a lot of people who depend on us to make sure that we expand opportunity every day, and that continues to be my singular focus,” Perez told The Hill.

Following a wide-ranging speech on labor issues and the economy, Perez was also asked about why Holder has become a “lightening rod” of criticism for the Obama administration’s political opponents.

“Well, Eric Holder stood up for voting rights, Eric Holder stood up for common-sense criminal justice reform,” he said. “Whenever you’re going to work on some of these defining issues of our day, you will have folks who oppose you.”

Perez declined to say what he believes should be the Justice Department’s top priorities.

But he did weigh in on the debate over voting rights, rekindled over the weekend by the Supreme Court’s decision to allow Texas to use its controversial new voter ID law for the November election, despite a lower court’s ruling that the law unfairly targets minorities.

In a 6-3 vote Saturday, the justices rejected appeals from the Justice Department and civil rights groups to block provisions requiring voters to produce certain forms of photo ID in order to cast ballots in the state.

Statutes like the Texas law have also cropped up in other states, with proponents contending that they are needed to stave off fraud.

Perez, citing his experience at the Justice Department, pushed back against the assertion that in-person voter fraud is a major and “enduring” problem in the United States.

“I don’t believe that because I did these cases when I was over there,” he said. “And that is a phantom problem.”

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