WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama nominated Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez to be the next secretary of labor, choosing a Hispanic lawyer with experience in civil rights and workplace issues to his second-term Cabinet. Obama called Perez a consensus builder whose story "reminds us of this country's promise."
"Tom's made protecting that promise for everybody the cause of his life," Obama said in an appearance with Perez in the White House East Room Monday.
If confirmed by the Senate, Perez, who has been head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division since 2009, would take over the Labor Department as Obama undertakes several worker-oriented initiatives, including an overhaul of immigration laws and an increase in the minimum wage.
Before taking the job as assistant attorney general, the 51-year-old Perez was secretary of Maryland's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which enforces state consumer rights, workplace safety and wage and hour laws.
Perez has broad support from labor and from the Latino community. Among those at the White House ceremony Monday were AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous.
Perez also has Republican congressional critics who can be expected to oppose his confirmation. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., called the nomination "unfortunate and needlessly divisive."
In choosing Perez, the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Obama would be nominating his first second-term Latino Cabinet member. Perez, a lawyer with a degree from Harvard Law School, would replace Hilda Solis, a former California congresswoman and the nation's first Hispanic labor secretary.
At the Justice Department, Perez has played a leading role in the agency's decision to challenge voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina that could restrict minority voting rights. A federal court later struck down the Texas law and delayed implementation of the law in South Carolina until after the 2012 election.
Perez thanked Obama, interspersing some Spanish into his remarks.
"Our nation still faces critical economic challenges, and the department's mission is as important as ever," Perez said.