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Labor nominee Perez pledges open mind

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SAM HANANEL | April 18, 2013 09:59 AM EST | AP

WASHINGTON — Labor Secretary nominee Thomas Perez is telling senators he would approach the job with an open mind and a willingness to work with business and labor groups to help create new jobs.

Perez also pledges to continue the Labor Department's aggressive enforcement of safety, wage and hour laws.

His comments came at a hearing Thursday in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, where he faces tough questions from Republicans about his tenure as the government's top civil rights enforcer.

The committee plans to vote on his nomination next week. But Perez faces a tougher road in the full Senate. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., plans to put a hold on the nomination, forcing it to get at least 60 votes to move forward.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

Labor Secretary nominee Thomas Perez is expected to face tough questions at his confirmation hearing about his tenure as head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

The hearing Thursday will be the first time Perez publicly addresses GOP critics who say he made some questionable decisions as the nation's top civil rights enforcer.

Republican lawmakers have criticized Perez's decision not to intervene in a whistle-blower case that could have netted taxpayers up to $200 million. They've also raised questions about his decision to dismiss some defendants in a voter intimidation case involving the New Black Panther Party.

Democrats say Perez's critics are politically motivated. Civil rights groups, labor unions and Hispanic organizations have heaped praise on Perez, calling him a strong leader and forceful advocate for labor rights.