POLITICS

Tom Perez skirts the issue of attorney general post at National Press Club event

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 20:  U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez speaks during a National Press Club  luncheon October 20, 2014 in Washington, DC. Secretary Perez spoke on "An Economy That Works for Everyone: The Labor Secretary's Perspective."  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 20: U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez speaks during a National Press Club luncheon October 20, 2014 in Washington, DC. Secretary Perez spoke on "An Economy That Works for Everyone: The Labor Secretary's Perspective." (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)  (2014 Getty Images)

Nomination? What nomination?

Labor Secretary Tom Perez is believed to be on the short list of candidates that President Barack Obama is considering nominating to replace Eric Holder as U.S. attorney general.

But when asked about the rumor, Perez, who was at the National Press Club Monday delivering a speech about labor and the economy, tried to switch the focus to his current job.

“We’ve got a lot of balls in the air at the Department of Labor and we’ve got a lot of people who depend on us to make sure that we expand opportunity every day, and that continues to be my singular focus,” Perez said, according to The Hill.

But that didn't mean that he couldn't talk about the job that Holder has done or talk about the Justice Department. 

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When he was asked, "What should be the Justice Department's top priorities?" 

Perez said, "My particular focus is on the job of being the head of the Department of Labor."

"I'm still doing my day job," he added.

Perez, who is 53 and is the son of Dominican immigrants, ran the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division before he became labor secretary last summer. Earlier this month, the New York Times, citing unidentified sources, reported that the front-runner for attorney general apparently was Perez.

But days later, the Associated Press reported that a White House official said that the president had not yet decided who he wants to succeed Holder, a longtime friend and political ally who announced last month he will step down whenever a new attorney general is confirmed.

On Monday, Perez praised Holder for fighting for voting rights and other justice issues.

“Eric Holder stood up for voting rights, Eric Holder stood up for common-sense criminal justice reform,” he said. “Whenever you’re going to work on some of these defining issues of our day, you will have folks who oppose you."

Perez suggested that it is a misconception that such measures as voter ID laws are needed to address rampant fraud.

“I don’t believe that because I did these cases when I was over there,” he said, according to The Hill. “And that is a phantom problem.”

The Supreme Court said Saturday that Texas can use its controversial new voter identification law for the election on Nov. 4.

A majority of the justices rejected an emergency request from the Justice Department and civil rights groups to prohibit the state from requiring voters to produce certain forms of photo identification in order to cast ballots. Three justices – Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor – dissented.

The law had been struck down by a federal judge last week, but a federal appeals court had put that ruling on hold. The judge found that roughly 600,000 voters, many of them black or Latino, could be turned away at the polls because they lack acceptable identification.

The White House is preparing for the prospect of trying to push through a nominee in the year-end congressional session while Democrats still have a 10-seat majority in the Senate.

Obama faces the likelihood of an even tougher challenge to win confirmation if he waits until early next year, since Republicans are expected to pick up seats in the midterm, if not to win outright control of the Senate.

Republicans have called on Obama to wait until the new Congress is seated in January to make the nomination.

On Monday, Perez pushed his and Obama’s efforts to raise the national minimum wage and to have paid maternity- and paternity-leave federally mandated for workers.

Perez said that the United States is the only industrialized nation that lacks such a mandate. He said having it would raise the labor participation rate as well as benefit families in a variety of ways.

"Why are we making people choose between the job they need and the family they love?" Perez asked.

"This is a family issue and an American issue," Perez said. "We need to lead on leave. We can't simply leave talent on the bench."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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