Thomas Perez was confirmed as Labor Secretary by the Senate on Thursday. In this March photo, President Obama applauds announces Perez’s nomination (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Thomas Perez confirmed as Department of Labor Secretary

After a long and contentious nomination process, President Obama‘s nominee, Thomas Perez, was finally confirmed as Labor Secretary Thursday afternoon.

The Senate voted 54-46, the closest tally for any of Obamas’s second term cabinet picks, to confirm Perez’s nomination.

Perez is the only Latino to serve in Obama’s cabinet this term. The new Labor Secretary, who is of Dominican heritage,  replaces Hilda Solis who resigned from her position in January. Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the only other Latino cabinet member, left his post in March.

The 51-year-old longtime Maryland resident said when he was first nominated that the nation “still faces critical economic challenges,” and said he was looking forward to working with labor unions, businesses and legislators from both sides of the aisle “to keep making progress for working families.”

At his confirmation hearing in April, Perez pledged to senators that he would have an open mind in the role and would work with businesses and labor to create jobs. Perez said he is proud of his accomplishments at the Justice Department and pointed to a 40 percent increase in the number of human trafficking cases, stepped up hate crimes enforcement and efforts to protect the employment rights of military service members.

RELATED: Labor nominee Thomas Perez grilled by GOP, says he’ll work with business, labor to create jobs  

“Tom knows what it’s like to climb the ladder of opportunity” President Obama said of Perez in March. The president also cited Perez’s work as a garbage collector to put himself through school as a living example of the American dream, saying “his story reminds us of this country’s promise.”

Perez, who led the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, was considered too liberal by many Republicans and faced a tough confirmation fight. His March nomination only proceeded four months later, after senators struck a deal to move forward several of President Obama’s stalled nominees. Senate Majority Leader Harry Read threatened a historic Senate rules change if Republicans did not halt their filibusters and allow nominations, including Perez’s, to proceed.

Senator Marco Rubio was one of the leading voices criticizing Perez ahead of his confirmation. The Florida Republican said on Wednesday that he opposed Perez because he did not comply with a House subpoena that requested his personal emails related to a case against the city of St. Paul Minnesota.

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“We are now being asked to confirm someone…who has an open contempt of a congressional subpoena. This is wrong. How can we possibly move forward on a nominee — I don’t care if a deal has been cut,” Rubio said in a heated speech on the Senate floor. “If there was ever an instance that someone’s nomination should[n’t] move forward, this is it.”

Rubio’s opposition contrasted the support Perez got from other lawmakers, including some Republicans, as well as many Latino advocacy groups who put pressure on the Senate to confirm Perez.   The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) sent a letter to the Senate highlighting Perez’s accomplishments.

“Tom Perez is a dedicated public servant and has spent his entire career fighting for hardworking middle class families, the underprivileged, and the disabled,” Rep. Linda Sanchez, Second Chair of the CHC, said in a statement. “He is exactly who we need to lead the Department of Labor to take on long-term unemployment, immigration and the minimum wage.”

RELATED: Rubio criticizes Labor Secretary nominee Tom Perez, as Latino groups press for his confirmation

Latino groups like the Hispanic Federation, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, AFL-CIO Latino, and Latino Justice PRLDEF also all fought for Perez to take the Labor Department’s top post. The groups praised his civil rights work with the Justice Department and sought to mobilize Americans to pressure their Senators by tweeting out facts about Perez’s work at the DOJ with the hashtag #ConfirmTom.  The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda led the fight to confirm Perez, sending letters to the White House in January.

In an email on Thursday, NHLA told supporters Perez was “on the verge of making history as the first Dominican American Cabinet-level appointee in the nation.”

Congressman Xavier Becerra praised Perez’s confirmation, calling it “long overdue.”

“I am glad to see that today, the Senate has finally approved this champion of America’s working families to serve our nation with such an important responsibility. I look forward to seeing Secretary Perez continue his legacy of protecting the dignity, safety, and workers’ rights of all Americans,” he said.

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Ruben Hinojosa said that Perez is “imminently qualified.”

“Mr. Perez will do wonderful things at the Department of Labor,” Hinojosa said in a statement. “It is a truly great day when such a dedicated civil servant is elevated to such an important and prominent position within President Barack Obama’s Cabinet.”

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