Senators confirmed billionaire businessman Wilbur Ross to lead President Donald Trump’s Commerce Department, 72-27, with 19 Democrats and one Independent joining Republicans in a rare display of robust bipartisan support for one of the president’s cabinet officers.
“Mr. Ross’s strong record of achievement led Bloomberg Business Week to name him one of the 50 most influential people in global finance,” said Sen. John Thune (R.-S.D.) from the Senate floor. Thune is the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee that approved Ross Jan. 24.
Ross is a legendary Wall Street financier and turn-around expert who made his fortune dealing with hard-luck companies in industries like coal, steel, and textiles. His most renown turn-around might be his rescue of Trump in the late 1980s, when his casinos were unable to make their bond payments.
Thune said Ross is the right man for this time, because the 79-year-olds’s acumen turning around failing businesses is needed now, as America’s own economic recovery is stagnant.
“I believe his management experience in the private sector and his understanding of the challenges faced by workers and businesses alike will equip him well for the job leading the Department of Commerce.”
The South Dakota senator said Ross understands that the department is a large enterprise with nearly 47,000 employees in all 50 states with wide-ranging responsibilities, such as weather forecasting, fisheries management, and the Census Bureau. “I believe that Mr. Ross’s business know-how and intelligence make him an excellent candidate.”
When the president nominated Ross Nov. 29, he spoke of Ross as a like-spirit.
“He is one of the greatest negotiators I have ever met, and that comes from me, the author of The Art of the Deal,” Trump said.
“Together, we will take on the special interests and stand up for American jobs,” he said.
“Wilbur knows that cutting taxes for working families, reducing burdensome government regulations, and unleashing America’s energy resources will strengthen our economy at a time when our country needs to see significant growth,” he said. “I am proud to nominate him as Secretary of Commerce.”
Massachusetts Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Warren was one of 27 Democrats voting against Ross.
“Mr. Ross is a Wall Street billionaire with a long history of profiting from the suffering of others,” Warren said. “He also has shady ties to Putin’s Russia. That’s just his record and because of that record, I do not have confidence that he will protect the interests of the American people as Secretary of Commerce.”
Georgia Republican Sen. David Perdue said the bipartisan vote was a testiment to Ross being the right man for the job.
“Both sides of the aisle can agree Wilbur Ross is a great choice to oversee our country’s trade and commerce,” he said. “Mr. Ross has a track record of promoting job creation and will be a strong new voice to get our economy growing again.”
Trump made unfair trade deals a centerpiece of his presidential campaign with the help of economist Peter Navarro, who is now the assistant to the president and director of trade and industrial policy. Ross and Navarro worked closely together during the campaign developing Trump’s trade posture, and Ross will join Navarro and Trade Representative-designate Robert Lighthizer on the president’s National Trade Council.
Ross said he is looking to working with Navarro again. “We were a great team during the campaign, and we will be a great team during the Administration.”
Shortly after the Ross vote, senators voted 65-21 to close debate and advance the nomination of Rep. Ryan Zinke(R.-Mont.) for Interior Secretary for a floor vote.
Voting to close debate, or cloture, means that there is a maximum of 30 hours of debate left before the actual floor vote. Republicans have a 52-48 majority in the Senate, so Democrats did not have the votes to block a candidate with GOP defections. Despite this hurdle, Democrats have insisted in using all 30 hours of debate in order to delay the president’s ability to staff up his administration.
The confirmation vote for Zinke is the next up, but has not been scheduled.