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Michael Steele Defends Tom Perez, Criticizes Rush Limbaugh's 'Hugo Chavez' Attack

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WASHINGTON -- Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele on Monday criticized Rush Limbaugh for making racist remarks about Tom Perez, the Justice Department official who is President Barack Obama's nominee for Secretary of Labor.

News of Perez's nomination drew opposition from some Republican senators and he quickly came under fire from figures in the conservative media, with Limbaugh comparing him to the “grand kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan” and the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Steele doesn’t understand where Limbaugh is coming from.

“I think we just need to be a little more tempered here,” Steele said. “I just don’t see a basis for, you know, Chavez? How did we jump to that? Oh, because he’s Hispanic? Oh, got it, got it, alright. Again, you can’t take that seriously, and that’s what the American people are tired of, quite frankly.”

Steele worked with Perez in Maryland, when he served as lieutenant governor and Perez was a member of the Montgomery County Council. He praised Perez's work as secretary of the state's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation and said he has “done an incredible job” as head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

“I think he’s going to be a good Labor Secretary,” Steele told The Huffington Post. “I think he can bring a different temperament to the job and recognize the very important balance between labor and management, if you will, and the appropriate role of unions in this new marketplace and the appropriate role of small businesses.”

“I think he is going to be exciting. I’ve known him a long time and this is one of those moments where there is no partisanship here,” Steele added. “This is a good public servant who should be given an opportunity, and the president recognized that."

Republicans, Steele said, “kind of seem to forget that when we were in the position, making the nominations, we got our noses out of joint when Democrats had ad hominem attacks against our nominees.”

“We saw the success of those types of attacks when they’re unwarranted, whether it’s for a Justice Department appointment or for a Supreme Court nomination,” Steele said.

Asked about DOJ’s opposition to voter ID laws in South Carolina and Texas during Perez’s time as head of the Civil Rights Division, Steele said Republicans hadn't approached the “contentious” voter ID issue “in the smartest way possible.”

“If we had, the courts wouldn’t be throwing it out,” Steele said. “His view as heading up the Civil Rights Division was one of what’s fair, what does the law require? His responsibility at the Justice Department was to make sure those standards were met, and I think you’ll see that same kind of approach in his appointment over at Labor. He’s going to come at it asking what’s in the best interest of America’s workforce and recognizing the interconnection between that workforce and the people that employ them.”

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