GOP Takes Another Shot at Derailing Obama's Progressive Labor Nominee

| Thu Apr. 25, 2013 2:25 PM EDT

Republicans have been trying for weeks to block President Barack Obama's nomination of Thomas Perez, the chief of the civil rights division at the Justice Department, to run the Labor Department. They haven't succeeded yet. But they're still at it.

Politico's Josh Gerstein reports that Democrats have delayed a vote on Perez nomination that was originally scheduled for Thursday. The Dems moved to postpone the vote after Republicans said they would use an unrelated Senate subcommittee hearing on workplace safety to feature a witness likely to be critical of Perez. Republicans wanted to call Frederick Newell, a St. Paul man whose $180 million lawsuit against the city over its failure to properly dispense federal grants meant for low-income residents was undercut by an agreement Perez helped arrange. The workplace safety hearing has now been postponed as well, with Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) accusing Republicans of trying to exploit the hearing to attack Perez and possibly derail his nomination.

As Mother Jones reported in March, in exchange for the Justice Department not joining Newell's lawsuit, St. Paul agreed last year to withdraw a fair housing case before the Supreme Court. Liberals had feared that the conservative justices on the high court would have used the St. Paul case to significantly narrow the ability of the federal government to hold financial institutions accountable for discrimination against minorities.

Republicans were frustrated by the missed opportunity to weaken the Fair Housing Act, a key civil rights law. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) worked hard to convince GOP legislators on the Senate labor committee that Perez acted inappropriately when he helped broker that deal with St. Paul. The House oversight committee, which Issa chairs, released a report last week that accused Perez of shady behavior but failed to detail any specific legal or ethical violations. (Perez consulted with internal ethics monitors at Justice to ensure that the deal was appropriate). Republicans brought up the report during Perez' confirmation hearing last week but there were no fireworks.

Newell is angry about the St. Paul deal for a very particular reason of his own. This St. Paul small business owner spent years putting together evidence that the city of St. Paul wasn't meeting its federal grant obligations. The city entered into an agreement in 2010 with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to ensure it would meet those obligations in the future, and HUD told Mother Jones in March that St. Paul has complied so far.

Though the underlying issue that Newell sued over seems to have been resolved, he didn't get anything out of the deal. Had the lawsuit proceeded and he won, he would have pocketed between 15 and 30 percent of the sum the judge decided St. Paul owed. But it's not clear Newell would have won his case if the Justice Department had joined. The US attorneys in Minnesota thought he had a good case, yet the experts in the civil division believed he did not. When the Justice Department declined to join Newell's lawsuit, it meant that the case would most likely be dismissed, and it was.

So the problem was taken care of, but Newell lost his chance to collect a lot of money. Given all the hard work he put in, it's understandable he's ticked off at Perez. But the fact that Newell didn't get his money doesn't mean Perez did anything improper.

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