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Solis confirmed as Labor secretary

The Democratic lawmaker from El Monte joins Obama's Cabinet after a series of political hurdles.

February 25, 2009|Rebecca Cole

WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed Rep. Hilda L. Solis (D-El Monte) as Labor secretary Tuesday, more than two months after President Obama nominated her for the post.

Solis, 51, had faced a series of problems, including revelations of $6,400 in outstanding tax liens owed on her husband's auto repair business. But her path to confirmation was cleared when Republicans ended plans to invoke a rule that would have forced a filibuster-proof 60 votes for confirmation.

Instead, in an up-or-down confirmation vote, the Senate voted 80 to 17. All Democrats supported the nominee, and they were joined by 24 Republicans.

Solis' nomination initially stalled over her role in a nonprofit entity that lobbied for the much-contested Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would make it easier for workers to form unions.

Republicans, wary of Solis' work as a director and former treasurer of American Rights at Work, held up her confirmation when they learned she did not mention any connection to the organization in disclosure forms filed with the House from 2004 to 2007.

"Because of these errors, we had to reconstruct her application and her financial statements to remove the possibility of any conflict of interest," Sen. Michael B. Enzi (R-Wyo.) said. "If we had not faced these paperwork problems, we probably would have been able to vote on her nomination in January."

Dubbed the "card check," the Employee Free Choice Act would allow employees to form unions by filling out a card, rather than voting in a secret-ballot election. Business groups have pledged to fight the measure but labor rights groups are solidly behind it. Solis was a sponsor of the bill.

A report this month that Solis' husband, Sam H. Sayyad, had thousands of dollars in tax liens also threatened to derail her nomination. The liens against Sayyad have been released, according to a letter Enzi received from the Los Angeles County treasurer-tax collector.

Enzi, the ranking Republican on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, expressed concern about Solis' lack of management experience, citing the Labor Department's $53-billion budget and nearly 17,000 employees.

"Unfortunately, based on my review of her background, I am concerned that Rep. Solis lacks the management experience needed to meet the demands of the job -- even though I recognize it is the president's prerogative to select his Cabinet."

In the end, Enzi voted in support of Solis' nomination.

In 2000, Solis became the first woman to receive the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for her work on California legislation for environmental protections in minority communities.

The daughter of a Mexican immigrant, Solis was the first in her family to graduate from college, and she became the first Latina elected to the California Senate in 1994.

Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, applauded Solis' confirmation.

"The failing economy has put millions of Americans out of work and millions more are wondering if their job will be next," Miller said. "The Department of Labor will have an important role in our nation's economic recovery, and I am very confident that Hilda Solis is the right leader for the job."

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rcole@tribune.com

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