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Meet Your New Commerce Secretary: Only One Senator Voted Against Her Confirmation



The U.S. Senate on Tuesday voted to confirm billionaire Democrat bundler and longtime Obama ally Penny Pritzker as Commerce secretary in a 97-1 vote.

"She knows what it takes to build companies from the ground up, and she shares my belief in doing everything we can to help businesses and workers succeed and make America a magnet for good jobs," President Barack Obama said in a statement.

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Pritzker won easy confirmation despite lingering concerns over her “dodgy” business past. In fact, it was Pritzker’s background in questionable business deals that prevented her from being named to the post during President Obama’s first term.

“She and her secretive family have been caught up in some pretty dodgy commercial ventures including but not limited to dodging taxes and running a bank that specialized in subprime mortgages,” The Atlantic reported in February.

The report continues:

Back in 2008 when she was “widely reported to be a leading contender for commerce secretary,” The New York Times laid down some difficult truths about Pritzger. It’s true that 53-year-old woman — then just 49 — has managed a number of businesses in her career. Unfortunately, one of them was Superior Bank which, in The Times‘s words, “focused on bundling subprime mortgages into securities, the practice that later helped set off the current financial crisis.” Oops. That bank went under in 2001, but not after the Pritzker family agreed to pay $460 million in damages to depositors. Her involvement in Superior Bank would be trouble enough in a Senate confirmation hearing, but Pritzker’s family is also well known for their tax avoidance techniques. Borrowing The Times‘s wording again, “The Pritzkers were pioneers in using tax loopholes to shelter their holdings from the Internal Revenue Service, and many of their dealings have never been made public.”

Still, her past was apparently not an issue for U.S. lawmakers Tuesday and she was easily confirmed.

"She is a force of nature," said Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who said the Commerce post "takes a tough person and we haven't had a tough person for a while."

Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., one of the Senate's most liberal members, was the only vote in opposition. "We need a secretary of commerce who will represent the interests of working Americans and their families, not simply the interests of CEOs and large corporations," Sanders said.

The nomination of Pritzker comes just in time for her to assist in trade talks with the European Union and Pacific Rim nations, the Associated Press notes.

“Pritzker becomes the fourth woman serving as secretary in Obama's current Cabinet. She is the wealthiest in the Cabinet by far, with Forbes estimating her net worth at $1.85 billion and ranking her as the 277th richest American,” the report adds.

“The commerce post has been vacant since Bryson resigned after saying he suffered a seizure that led to a series of traffic collisions.”

Pritzker currently serves as chair of investment firms Pritzker Realty Group and Artemis Real Estate Partners. She's also on the board of the Hyatt Hotels Corp., the chain co-founded by her father.

Here’s a complete breakdown of how the U.S. Senate voted:



Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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