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Senate Confirms Hilda Solis as Labor Secretary

February 24, 2009
Related Topics: Ethics, Labor Relations, Policies and Procedures, Latest News
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After nearly seven weeks of scrutinizing her background and policy positions, the Senate confirmed Rep. Hilda Solis, D-California, as secretary of labor on Tuesday, February 24.

The 80-17 vote came after Solis explained her role as an unpaid treasurer for American Rights at Work, a nonprofit organization, and her husband paid about $6,400 in tax liens against his auto repair business.

Republicans held up Solis’ confirmation process over concerns about a conflict of interest between Solis’ role with the advocacy group and her support of legislation that it sought to pass, including a bill that would make it easier for workers to organize. 

Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee, said Solis signed an affidavit indicating that she had “no check-writing or signing authority” with American Rights at Work and that she did not control its spending on campaign ads.

Enzi attributed the delay in Solis’ confirmation to “numerous errors and omissions” in the documents she submitted to the committee and in House financial disclosures over a number of years.

“Because of these errors, we had to reconstruct her application and her financial statements to remove the possibility of any conflict of interest,” Enzi said.

Enzi also said he had received confirmation from Los Angeles County and the state of California that her husband’s liens had been released. Tax problems have cropped up for several Obama administration appointees. Former Sen. Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, withdrew from his nomination as secretary of health and human services over $128,000 in unpaid taxes.

Republicans also slowed Solis’ nomination to get answers to follow-up questions from her January 9 nomination hearing. At that meeting, she avoided stating a position on the unionization bill, the Employee Free Choice Act, and several other policies.

Even her written responses didn’t fully satisfy Republicans.

“The nominee dodged legitimate questions relating to the Employee Free Choice Act, right-to-work laws, employment standards and overtime regulations, to name just a few,” Enzi said. “This is a policy post, and policy questions deserve full answers from any nominee.”

While in the House, Solis was a co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, as President Barack Obama was while serving in the Senate. The AFL-CIO gave her voting record a 97 percent rating.

In the end, Enzi said that his committee had done its “due diligence” and he joined Democrats and most other Republicans in voting for Solis.

The daughter of immigrants who were also union leaders, Solis was praised by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, as someone who understands the challenges that working families face in a recession.

Solis has represented a congressional district in the Los Angeles area since 2001. Prior to coming to Capitol Hill, she was the first Hispanic woman elected to the California state Senate.

Solis won a Profile in Courage Award from the John F. Kennedy Library in 2000 for her work on environmental justice and minority, worker and women’s rights. She earned her undergraduate degree from Cal Poly Pomona and a master’s degree from the University of Southern California.

“Her life is one that epitomizes the American Dream,” Enzi said.

—Mark Schoeff Jr.

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