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Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Tom Perez '83 and Gina McCarthy ─ Preserving the Obama Legacy, Reflections from Former Cabinet Members

Thursday, April 12, 2018

5 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.

List Art 120, 64 College Street

Registration required, register at https://obamalegacy.eventbrite.com.

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A conversation with Tom Perez '83, chair of the Democratic National Committee and former Secretary of Labor, and Gina McCarthy, former administrator for the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), on the dismantling of Obama administration policies. Edward Steinfeld, Watson Institute director and professor of political science, will moderate.

How much Obama era policy has been undone by the Trump administration? What has survived and what hasn’t? Why? Perez and McCarthy will weigh in on the Obama legacy and where to go from here.


The son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Tom Perez grew up in Buffalo where he learned the values of a union town: hard work, integrity, service, and perseverance.

After putting himself through college with Pell Grants and working on the back of a garbage truck, Tom passed up offers from white-shoe law firms, instead choosing to start his career as a civil rights attorney for the U.S. Justice Department prosecuting racially motivated hate crimes.

For the past 8 years, Tom had the privilege of serving in President Obama’s administration. First as head of the department’s Civil Rights Division, where he led the charge against police misconduct, voter suppression, anti-LGBT discrimination, and immigrant-bashing sheriffs’ departments. Then as Secretary of Labor, fighting to protect and expand opportunities for America’s working people – from better wages and overtime pay, to retirement security and collective bargaining rights.

But Tom’s strongest roots are in local organizing. In 2002, he became the first Latino elected to the Montgomery County Council. And as board president of CASA de Maryland, Tom helped grow the organization from a small service provider in the basement of a church to one of the largest immigrant advocacy groups in the mid-Atlantic.


A career public servant in both Democratic and Republican administrations, Gina McCarthy has been a leading advocate for common sense strategies to protect public health and the environment for more than thirty years. As the head of EPA under President Obama, she led historic progress to achieve the administration's public health and environmental protection goals and Climate Action Plan. In 2015, McCarthy signed the Clean Power Plan, which set the first-ever national standards for reducing carbon emissions from existing power plants, underscoring the country's commitment to domestic climate action and spurring international efforts that helped secure the Paris Climate Agreement. During her tenure, EPA initiatives cut air pollution, protected water resources, reduced greenhouse gases and strengthened chemical safety to better protect more Americans, especially the most vulnerable, from negative health impacts. Internationally, McCarthy worked with the UN and WHO on a variety of efforts and represented the U.S. on global initiatives to reduce high risk sources of pollution. Known for her pragmatic approaches and disarming, plain-speaking style, McCarthy has earned the respect of the environmental, public health and business communities with her thorough understanding of all sides of climate, air quality, chemical safety, environmental justice and health equity, and water, land and natural resource protection and restoration discussions.

Before joining EPA, she served five Massachusetts Democratic and Republican administrations and was Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. She joined EPA in 2009 as Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation. In 2013, she was chosen by President Obama to spearhead his climate efforts at the federal level as EPA Administrator.

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