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Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker confirmed by Senate

June 25, 2013|By Michael A. Memoli and Lisa Mascaro
  • Chicago billionaire business executive Penny Pritzker was confirmed Tuesday to serve as President Obama's Commerce secretary.
Chicago billionaire business executive Penny Pritzker was confirmed… (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated…)

WASHINGTON — Chicago billionaire Penny Pritzker was confirmed Tuesday as President Obama’s secretary of Commerce in a 97-1 Senate vote.

Pritzker, a Democratic mega-donor whose family founded the Hyatt Hotel chain, was the president’s 2008 campaign finance chair and a 2012 campaign co-chair. Her nomination moved with relative ease in the Senate at a time when Republicans have objected to other choices Obama has made to fill out his second-term Cabinet.

The nation has been without a full-time Commerce secretary since John Bryson resigned nearly a year ago after suffering  a seizure that led to two hit-and-run accidents near his home in San Marino, Calif. Rebecca Blank, who had served as acting secretary, resigned  May 31.

Despite the overwhelming confirmation vote, Pritzker’s nomination drew concerns from both the left and right. A major labor union that represents hotel workers said the Hyatt chain has a history of unfriendly labor practices. At the same time, her wealth had raised questions about what Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) called possible “offshore tax avoidance activities.”

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Pritzker, whose wealth is estimated at $1.85 billion, has requested that her holdings in overseas trusts be moved to the United States.

Pritzker had the support of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee's top Republican, John Thune of South Dakota. The only vote opposed on Tuesday was Sen. Bernard Sanders, the independent from Vermont.

The Senate has approved eight of Obama's 12 nominees for Cabinet-level posts in his second term.

Obama’s nomination of Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Anthony Foxx to be Transportation secretary could be voted on this week after also having cleared the Commerce committee. Foxx would replace Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Peoria.

But Republicans stepped up their objections Tuesday to Gina McCarthy’s nomination to run the Environmental Protection Agency.

In nominating Pritzker, the president called her one of the nation's “most distinguished business leaders.” Pritzker said during her confirmation hearing in May that the president had expressed his desire that she work as a bridge between the administration and the business community.

“Penny is a proven leader, a successful entrepreneur, and one of the most accomplished and highly-respected women in business today,” Obama said after the vote, and she “will be a key member of my economic team as we continue to work to grow our economy and strengthen the middle class.”

Staff writer Katherine Skiba contributed to this report.

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