Obama selects Pritzker for Commerce secretary

David Jackson, USA TODAY

President Obama plans to fill out his economic team on Thursday, nominating a long-time supporter and a top aide for the jobs of Commerce secretary and U.S. trade representative.

Obama will nominate Chicago business executive and fundraiser Penny Pritzker for Commerce Secretary, and economic adviser Mike Froman for trade representative, administration officials said.

The Senate must confirm both nominees.

Two administration officials confirmed the Pritzker and Froman nominations, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to pre-empt Obama's formal announcement Thursday morning.

Obama makes the nominations before departing on a three-day business trip to Mexico and Costa Rica.

Pritzker, who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Obama's two presidential campaigns, is on the board of Hyatt Hotels Corp. Her personal fortune is estimated at $1.85 billion, and she is listed among the 300 wealthiest Americans by Forbes magazine.

Pritzker's nomination, long-rumored, could draw fire from Obama's union supporters.

Hyatt and the hospitality workers union have been involved in a long contract battle, and workers have protested the company's treatment of them. The AFL-CIO and other organizations have called for a global boycott of Hyatt properties.

Senators may also grill Pritzker over the 2001 collapse of family-owned Superior Bank, which specialized in sub-prime lending, and federal lawsuits against her family over Caribbean tax shelters.

Obama considered Pritzker for Commerce secretary after his election in 2008, but she withdrew from consideration.

The Commerce Department has been led by Acting Secretary Rebecca Blank since John Bryson resigned last summer amid health concerns. Blank is leaving the administration to become chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Pritzker worked as Obama's national fundraising chairwoman for the 2008 presidential campaign, using her extensive business connections to help catapult him into the White House.

In 2012, Pritzker had a lower profile. While she was listed among the more than 750 Obama bundlers who collected money from family, friends and associates for his re-election, she was not among the supporters who contributed to Priorities USA Action, a super PAC raising unlimited amounts to aid the Obama campaign.

Pritzker's relative absence was noted by Democratic insiders, particularly as Priorities USA Action struggled to raise money to compete with deep-pocketed Republican super PACs.

As for the trade post, Froman is a long-time friend of Obama -- they worked together on the Harvard Law Review -- and has served as the president's deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs. In that role, he has helped prepare Obama for more than a dozen international economic summits.

If confirmed by the Senate, Froman would replace Ron Kirk, who left the U.S. trade representative position earlier this year.

Critics of Obama's trade policies noted that Froman has also backed such "corporate" deals as the North American Free Trade Agreement, which eases the transfer of manufacturing jobs to other countries.

"Folks on Main Street have cause for concern, unlike Froman's former Wall Street colleagues," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch.

Contributing: Fredreka Schouten


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