The US Senate confirmed Wilbur L. Ross, the billionaire investor and Vice-President of the Board of Directors of the Bank of Cyprus, as commerce secretary, installing a key leader for the Trump administration’s plans to overhaul trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement.
According to the New York Times, by a vote of 72 to 27, the Senate confirmed Ross, who has already been advising President Trump on economic policy and helping him to craft ways to rewrite the tax code. A renegotiation of Nafta is expected to be Ross’s top priority when he takes over the job. During his confirmation hearing in January, he warned that “all aspects” of the agreement between the United States and its northern and southern neighbours are on the table.
With the confirmation of Ross, the most important members of Trump’s economic team are in place just in time for looming fights over the budget, health care and tax legislation.
Compared with some of Trump’s other cabinet picks, Ross had his confirmation process move ahead with relative ease. He faced less resistance from Democrats than Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, and Andrew F. Puzder, whose nomination to lead the Labor Department was derailed.
A former Democrat, Ross, 79, divested a significant portion of his holdings to avoid conflicts of interest before taking the helm of the Commerce Department. He also tried to temper some of Trump’s views on trade, attempting to ease concerns that the United States is going to be engaging in trade wars.
“I am pro-trade, but I am pro-sensible trade,” Ross declared at his confirmation hearing.
But he takes the job with lingering questions about how his business experience will mesh with Trump’s “America First” trade agenda.
As a private equity investor, Ross amassed a fortune by taking advantage of trade deals with countries such as China and Mexico. He sent jobs to Mexico when he was the head of a car parts company, benefiting from some of the Nafta provisions that he will most likely be looking to unwind. And he is maintaining a minority stake in a company backed by the Chinese government, the New York Times report.
Ross has said that he wants to use his knowledge of the global economy to help improve the fortunes of lower- and middle-class Americans. He said last summer that he was attracted to Trump as a candidate because he believed that the country needed a “more radical, new approach to government.”
The appointment of Ross fulfills Trump’s promise to stock his cabinet with proven dealmakers. But it also opens the president up to criticism that he has veered away from his vows of populism by surrounding himself with plutocrats.
Ross is set to be sworn in on February 28 at the White House.