Obama Unveils Picks For Commerce Secretary, Trade Representative

The president tapped longtime Chicago ally Penny Pritzker to lead the Commerce Department, and Washington insider Michael Froman to become the next U.S. Trade Representative.
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President Obama urges the Senate to quickly confirm USTR nominee Michael Froman (left), and Commerce Secretary nominee Penny Pritzker (right).

In a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, Obama praised Pritzker’s private sector acumen, calling her “one of the country’s most distinguished business leaders.”

The two go back a ways, with Pritzker serving as Obama’s national campaign finance director in 2008, and the national co-chair of his 2012 campaign. Pritzker, whose family co-founded the popular Hyatt hotel chain, is worth an estimated $185 billion. As recently as 2011, Forbes ranked her as the 263rd richest person in the U.S.. She currently runs an investment house called PSP Capital Partners, and is involved with a number of philanthropic projects. She earned a degree in economics from Harvard, and a dual degree in law and business from Stanford, and was named last year as one of the most 100 powerful Chicagoans by Chicago Magazine.

Aspects of her business record, however, have come under fire. An Illinois-based bank she served as chairman of from 1991-1994 ultimately failed after it had invested heavily in subprime mortgages. The bank was later seized by the FDIC in 2001. Critics accused Pritzker of engaging in predatory lending, though she denied direct responsibility for the bank’s demise.

Pritzker’s involvement with the bank is certain to come up at her confirmation hearing, which will be held by the Senate, Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. If confirmed, she’ll become Obama’s fourth Commerce Secretary, succeeding acting Secretary Rebecca Blank, who took over last June after then-Secretary John Bryson stepped down. Bryson had been involved in a pair of bizarre car accidents in California two weeks earlier, which a spokesman attributed to a seizure the 69-year-old suffered while driving. He had been on the job less than a year after replacing former Secretary Gary Locke.

Froman, meanwhile, is a familiar face inside the administration, and should sail through his confirmation hearing. Currently, he serves as Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs, a position that makes him a member of both the National Security Council and National Economic Council. Obama today credited Froman with helping broker and execute a trio of free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea that were signed last year.

The president referred to Froman as “one of the world’s foremost experts on our global economy,” and joked that his former law school classmate “was much smarter than me then [and] continues to be smarter than me now.”

Froman has spent much of his adult life in government, and advised Obama during his maiden run for president five years ago. However, he also has some private sector experience, having worked as a managing director at banking giant Citigroup. The New York Times reported in 2009 that Froman earned over $7.4 million in a little more than one year with the company, which received $25 billion in bailout funds around that time. Current Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is also a veteran of Citigroup. Both men received handsome bonuses when they departed, a common course of action taken by wealthy firms that wish to have influence in Washington.

If confirmed, Froman will replace outgoing USTR Ron Kirk, the first African-American ever to serve in that position.

Geoff Holtzman
Geoff Holtzman is Talk Radio News Service's Deputy Bureau Chief. As one of TRNS's primary correspondents, he helps cover the White House and Capitol Hill. Geoff also covered the 2012 presidential campaign, following the candidates to Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida and elsewhere. In the process, he learned that not all Motel 6's are created equal. Follow Geoff on Twitter @Geoff_Holtzman.

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