Rush Limbaugh was criticized for likening Obama nominee Thomas Perez to Hugo Chavez and a KKK member on his radio show. (Getty Images)

Limbaugh on Perez, Obama’s cabinet pick: It’s like George W. Bush nominating a KKK member

Rush Limbaugh’s reaction to the nomination of Thomas Perez to be the next Secretary of Labor by President Obama left even fellow Republicans scratching their heads, after Limbaugh likened Perez to both Hugo Chavez and a member of the Ku Klux Klan in less than two minutes on his radio show.

“This guy’s name is Tom Perez and he may as well be Hugo Chavez, and that is not an exaggeration,” Limbaugh began, saying Perez was “the guy in the Department of Justice in the civil rights division who made the call not to prosecute the New Black Panthers.”

Limbaugh said listeners should imagine George W. Bush nominating someone who didn’t prosecute the Ku Klux Klan when they engaged in voter intimidation. “And then after not prosecuting klanners for that, then imagine what would happen if Bush turned around and nominated the Grand Kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan to a cabinet position where he would be deciding on discrimination lawsuits,” he said. “There would be unmitigated hell to pay — if George W. Bush put a klansman in his cabinet there would be hell to pay, that’s essentially what’s happened here.”

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High-profile Republicans rebuked Limbaugh for his remarks.

“I don’t know why anyone pays attention to rush Limbaugh or pays him any mind,” said Republican strategist Danny Vargas, who served as co-chair for Mitt Romney’s Hispanic outreach “Juntos con Romney” in Virginia. “He’s in the business of inflammatory remarks. Those of us trying to focus on moving the country forward don’t pay attention to rush Limbaugh and his ilk.”

Former Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Michael Steele, who worked with Perez in Maryland when he served as lieutenant governor and Perez was a member of the Montgomery County Council, also chided Limbaugh.

“I think we just need to be a little more tempered here,” Steele said, according to the Huffington Post. “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 praised Perez, saying he would be a good labor secretary, and Vargas echoed those sentiments.

“Am I 100 percent in agreement with everything Thomas Perez has done? No, but he’s a qualified individual who the president nominated,” he said.

Vargas lumped Limbaugh together with another conservative talker who is often on the wrong end of controversy.

“To the extent anyone is paying attention to Limbaugh or Ann Coulter, they’re in it for ratings and to be as inflammatory as possible,” he said.

Limbaugh’s comments come at a time when the Republican party is trying to re-brand itself and transition away from a reputation among voters as the party of “stuffy old  men” that is “out of touch,” as a report by the RNC looking into why Republicans lost the election, said. Marco Rubio has been trying to communicate GOP ideals in a broader way and has been a high-profile part of efforts to enact bipartisan immigration reform, while Rand Paul on Tuesday announced that he supported a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

“There are lots of us who are more thoughtful and serious minded on both sides trying to find ways to move the country forward,” Vargas says.

“That’s where the focus ought to be.”

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