Obama Pick For Commerce Secretary Approved In Rare Bipartisan Senate Vote

Michael Teague  |

Penny Pritzker’s name may seem familiar for a number of reasons. In 2008, she was the finance chairwoman of the Obama presidential campaign, and in that role oversaw the record level of donation money the president received, largely with the help of small donors who contributed cash over the internet.

She has also been touted by the Obama White House for her business acumen. Pritzker hails from the family that founded Hyatt Hotels (H), and has roots in Chicago, Illinois, where she was involved in the building of the 49-story Hyatt Center skyscraper. Additionally, she currently serves as the chair of Artemis Real Estate Partners, the director of Hyatt Hotels, the CEO of the investment firm PSP Capital Partners, and is a trustee of Palo Alto, California’s Stanford University.

Her business experience also includes her founding of the company Vi Living, which is a franchise of upscale assisted living facilities for the elderly, as well as a company called The Parking Spot that provides parking in the vicinity of airports.

The President was not short on praise for Pritzker, saying that she “knows what it takes to build companies from the ground up,” and promising that she would be of great assistance in creating good jobs in the U.S. Obama was equally laudatory of the Senate action that confirmed his nominee with such uncharacteristic ease. For her part, the new Secretary of Commerce billed herself as a “bridge between the administration and the business community” at the Senate hearing that took place prior to her confirmation.

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The near-unanimity of the vote that confirmed her on Tuesday is uniquely incongruous, however, given the increasingly entrenched partisanship that defines the political landscape in Washington D.C. as well as the country as a whole, especially as this climate has made a flashpoint out of the majority of Obama’s Cabinet nominees, such as Thomas Perez’s appointment to the head of the Labor Department, Gina McCarthy’s appointment to the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, or Robert Cordray’s accession to director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to name only a few.

Furthermore, Pritzker seems as though she is particularly vulnerable to the types of accusations that have not stuck against the aforementioned appointees, whose appointments are nevertheless still currently being contested. Not only is she a member of the Obama Chicago inner-circle, much maligned by the right, she has links to offshore trusts, and Bloomberg estimates her net worth at around $1.5 billion.

Pritzker has said that she will divest from 221 financial holdings and end her various involvements with 158 different entities, including her board membership with Hyatt Hotels, before entering her new position. Republicans had also been hinting that they would scrutinize her role in Illinois’ Superior Bank that collapsed in 2001. The bank is considered to have played a significant role at the forefront of sub-prime mortgage securitization, but no scrutiny was forthcoming from either side of the aisle.

Tuesday’s lone dissenting vote came from the left, in the form of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, an outspoken independent that often works with Democrats, but is well-known for left-of-liberal stances on a just about every issue.

Aside from that one objection, Pritzker was said to have impressed Senate Republicans in private meetings that took place before her confirmation hearing.

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