Republicans have mounted another high profile political battle, this time by opposing Tom Perez, President Barack Obama's pick for the Department of Labor Secretary. A committee vote planned for Wednesday afternoon was postponed at the last minute, forcing the vote to be rescheduled for May 16.
Conservatives who oppose Perez cite concerns about his fitness for the office, due in part to accusations levied against him during his time leading the civil rights division in the Justice Department.
Detractors say Perez made an unethical deal with city officials in St. Paul, Minn., by declining to join a lawsuit against the city in exchange for their willingness to drop support of a Supreme Court case that liberals feared would result in a new precedent on racial discrimination law. The Department of Justice denies that Perez made any such agreement and Democrats insist he acted "ethically at all times."
Perez also has received conservative criticism for his zeal in blocking voter ID laws in several states.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said he was disappointed by the opposition to Perez, but decided to try to quell opposition by giving Republicans more time to scrutinize the nomination.
"Despite this needless delay, the HELP Committee will vote next week on Mr. Perez's nomination and I hope that the full U.S. Senate will work quickly to consider and confirm Mr. Perez to the critical role of Labor Secretary," he said in a release. Harkin also took to the Senate floor Wednesday after announcing the delay to defend Perez.
But while Republicans may have legitimate reasons to question Perez's nomination, they risk furthering the stereotype that they are anti-Hispanic.
"In a lot of ways we could argue that Perez stands as the antithesis of the views of the GOP, but this has the potential for bad optics – at a time when Republicans need to garner a greater share of the Hispanic vote," says Ford O'Connell, a Republican political strategist who worked on the McCain-Palin campaign in 2008.
O'Connell says Republicans should scrutinize Perez, but not go overboard with their review.
"They should certainly scrutinize his credentials and qualifications and if they don't find a red herring, they should let him proceed to confirmation," he says, adding that the GOP is clearly aware of the potential for bad optics since Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., an African-American, has taken the lead in criticizing Perez.
And Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who is of Cuban descent and currently working to pass comprehensive immigration reform, issued a release Wednesday announcing his opposition to the nomination.
"After carefully reviewing Thomas Perez's record, views and conduct during his confirmation process, it is clear to me he should not be confirmed to be America's next Secretary of Labor," Rubio said. "During his tenure at the Justice Department, Mr. Perez has been associated with some of the department's most controversial decisions and appears to have engaged in selective and politically motivated applications of the law."
Rubio praised Perez's rags-to-riches life story, but said it takes more than a feel good story to earn a Cabinet position.
"Mr. Perez's far left views and troubling record at the Justice Department simply do not qualify him to lead the Labor Department and I will strongly oppose his confirmation," he says.
Because Democrats control the Senate, Perez's nomination is expected to pass through committee before facing a full Senate vote, likely to be scheduled in the coming weeks.