Earl Ofari Hutchinson – Author and political analyst
Posted: 04/28/2013 5:23 pm
The GOP’s whiplash of President Obama’s Labor Secretary pick, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez, is not about his alleged over the top activist cheerleading of labor, civil rights and voting rights, or any supposed improprieties in his involvement with a housing case in St. Paul, Minnesota a few years ago. It’s about Obama.
Change the name from Perez to Attorney General Eric Holder or UN Ambassador Susan Rice or Chuck Hagel, and one sees that the playbook the GOP is using again to slur Obama is identical. The GOP picks what it considers the most vulnerable Obama nominee, then pecks away at a peripheral issue to malign the nominee, and then threatens to delay or block the nomination in either hearings before a Senate Committee, or on the Senate floor. All the while, it churns out the most ridiculous and scurrilous snippets of gossip, rumor, half-baked charges to poison the air and cast public doubts about the nominee, and by extension Obama. The tactic worked with Rice and failed with Holder and Hagel. But in each case, it served its purpose namely to replant the seed that Obama’s picks are tainted, incompetent, or political cronies.
Perez is even more of an inviting target. He has impeccable civil rights, labor and progressive credentials. He has turned the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division that he heads into an efficient, watchdog agency that zealously guards and extends civil rights and labor protections. GOP conservatives detest that. In the St. Paul case that the GOP has latched on to make the most mischief, Perez’s alleged political sin is that he cut a deal with St. Paul officials behind the back of the courts to stop a civil rights lawsuit over housing discrimination from heading to the court supposedly because it would endanger the 1968 Fair Housing Act. In other words, Perez violated both ethics and the law. He did neither. The facts have been well established. The deal was cut at the urging of St. Paul officials, not Perez. And before he put the Justice Department’s stamp on it, he followed protocol to the letter and consulted with ethics enforcement officials, the Professional Advisory Office, and officials within the civil rights division that enforce the False Claims Act to determine whether the deal passed ethics muster.
This is hardly the picture of a civil rights activist run amok, and riding roughshod over the law. But the facts mean little when the issue is not an official’s competence or integrity but embarrassing a president. On this point, the GOP has even taken its flail at Perez a step further than it did at Holder or Hagel. It has threatened to bring in a whistleblower to testify who supposedly has smoking gun evidence that will prove that Perez engaged in unethical horse trading in cutting the St. Paul deal. The whistleblower is one of the litigants in a related case. This forced Democrats to delay the vote on him in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee which has held the hearings on Perez’s nomination. Barring the delay, the GOP would have tried to blow whatever the whistleblower had to say about Perez into practically a federal criminal indictment.
The assault on Obama through Perez is the primary motive for hammering Perez. But there’s more collateral benefit in the GOP calculus. And that’s to chill any aggressive action by a Perez run Labor Department on expanding labor protections and the GOP’s push to gut the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The labor attack fits in neatly with the ongoing GOP assault in states against public employee unions. Perez is clearly seen as the one Obama official that would be most likely to take the firmest line on pushing and protecting pension security, enforcement of wage and hour laws, job safety and equal opportunity in the workplace and especially and on card check legislation. This would virtually eliminate secret-ballot elections commonly used in workplace representation contests.
Perez’s staunch commitment to battling discrimination through aggressive enforcement of the voting rights laws poses a major threat to the GOP’s push to undermine the Voting Rights Act with a slew of voter ID laws and restrictions, topped by the lawsuit before the Supreme Court to scrub the Act. This is their last gasp maneuver to halt the momentum in the upsurge in black and Latino voters in what once were safe GOP leaning districts and states. In 2008 and 2012, these new voters made a huge difference in Obama’s election and reelection victories, and in insuring Democrat gains in many state elections. The full enforcement of the Voting Rights Act is the best safeguard of those gains. This is the exact thing that the GOP doesn’t want. Perez, like Holder and Hagel, will ultimately be confirmed. But the GOP’s aim is again to send the strong message that it is a potent force to check and sabotage Obama and his appointees. The issue again is not Perez, but Obama.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and on thehutchinsonreportnews.com
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