WASHINGTON — As Republicans in the Senate gear up for a potentially nasty nomination fight over President Obama's pick to be Labor Secretary Tom Perez, former RNC chair Michael Steele is standing up for him and calling on the Senate to confirm him.
"I don't agree with the idea of blocking him, number one," Steele told BuzzFeed. "I've known Tom Perez a long time. He's a solid man, good family man. He's a dedicated public servant and there are so few of those these dayss."
While Steele said he and Perez "disagree on some issues philosophically," he called on his fellow Republicans to confirm him. "Tom is a very passionate guy like I am. He believes in the idea of public service and the president recognizes that and has said he's going to be a strong voice for the workers of this country as he was for the workers of Maryland as our labor secretary," he said. "I think a lot of people want you to put on that partisan hat and chew him a new one, but for what purpose? He's been good at his job and he's been faithful to the oath that he swore."
Both Steele and Perez are former statewide officials in Maryland. Steele was the state's Lt. Gov. from 2002-2007. Perez was Maryland's secretary of labor from 2007-2009. In addition to times they'd worked together in Maryland, Steele also singled out the time both men served together as Aspen Institute fellows.
"He's going to be a fine secretary. I've gotten to know him even better through our association with the Aspen Institute," Steele said. "That's another one of those areas where the right and left have come together and kind of looked at problem solving as opposed to partisanship. I think he's going to bring that mindset to the job [of Labor Secretary.]"
Republican Senators like David Vitter and Jeff Sessions have pledged to battle Perez's nomination, picking up on conservative concerns about his time as head of the civil rights division for the Justice Dept. under Attorney General Eric Holder. Some progressive commentators have suggested a battle over Perez will hurt Republicans as they attempt to reach out to Latino voters after the drubbing the party took with the voting bloc in 2012.
Steele rejected that idea, even as he stood up for Perez against GOP attacks.
"I think that's wrong. Would they say that if Tom Perez was Tom Smith? They're focusing on the fact that he happens to be Latino, that he's Hispanic," Steele said. "The disagreements, as I understand them, that some have with him have nothing to do with him being Hispanic or would somehow change because he is Hispanic. … This is a slippery slope that we don't need to get on, that you can't disagree with someone because of their race or ethnicity."
Evan McMorris-Santoro is the White House correspondent for BuzzFeed News.
Contact Evan McMorris-Santoro at email@example.com.
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