Late this afternoon, the U.S. Senate, by a vote of 80-to-17 confirmed U.S. Representative Hilda Solis (D-California) as labor secretary, more than two months after she was nominated for the post by President Obama (See Obama Expected to Give Labor Secretary Nod to Solis).
Earlier in the day there had been reports that Senate leaders hadn’t been sure that they could get the nomination through without a filibuster – but they managed to avoid that roadblock after the Republican leadership dropped its insistence that her nomination clear a 60-vote procedural motion before it could be formally considered.
Solis, 51, had come under fire from Senate Republicans, who thought she was unresponsive to many of their questions during her confirmation hearing, a situation that was compounded by her work as treasurer for American Rights at Work, a pro-labor group. There were also concerns among some Republicans about her support for a measure (the Employee Free Choice Act) that would make it easier for workers to organize unions (see Boehner Takes Solis to Task on Card Check), and additional questions arose after it was reported that her husband had recently paid about $6,400 to settle tax liens against his California auto repair business (see Confirmation of Solis for DoL Held Up as Husband Pays Back Taxes).
Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said in a statement that “America’s working men and women will be fortunate to have someone of Hilda’s tremendous talents leading the Department of Labor. She knows the huge challenges facing workers and their families, and she has the experience and dedication needed for this vital position. It’s been a privilege to work with her in Congress, and I look forward very much to working with her as Secretary.’
Senator Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina), who opposed the Solis nomination, said, ““President Obama promised that his cabinet would be held to the highest standards, yet Hilda Solis skirted ethics rules to work for a liberal activist group and failed to be forthcoming on her tax problems. American workers deserve a labor secretary who will fight for their right to a secret ballot, but Congresswoman Solis has a long history opposing this basic American right. Instead, she has worked closely with union bosses to deny worker rights. Her conduct is unacceptable and I cannot support her nomination.’
Prior to confirmation as Secretary of Labor, Secretary Solis represented the 32nd Congressional District, a position she held from 2001 – 2009. In the Congress, Solis’ priorities included expanding access to affordable health care, protecting the environment, and improving the lives of working families, according to an announcement on the Labor Department Web site.
Solis was first elected to public office in 1985 as a member of the Rio Hondo Community College Board of Trustees. She served in the California State Assembly from 1992 to 1994, and in 1994 was the first Latina elected to the California State Senate. As the chairwoman of the California Senate Industrial Relations Committee, she led the battle to increase the state’s minimum wage from $4.25 to $5.75 an hour in 1996, and also authored a record seventeen state laws aimed at combating domestic violence, according to the announcement.
Solis graduated from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and earned a Master of Public Administration from the University of Southern California. A former federal employee, she worked in the Carter White House Office of Hispanic Affairs and was later appointed as a management analyst with the Office of Management and Budget in the Civil Rights Division.