WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Thursday nominated longtime fundraiser and hotel magnate Penny Pritzker as commerce secretary and veteran aide Michael Froman as the U.S. trade representative (USTR).
He made the announcement before embarking on a three-day economic and security trip to Mexico and Latin America.
If confirmed, Pritzker, the daughter of the cofounder of the Hyatt hotel chain and a successful investor in her own right, will become the richest secretary in Obama’s Cabinet and potentially the richest Cabinet secretary in U.S. history. She has a net worth of $1.8 billion, according to Forbes magazine, making her the 277th-wealthiest person on the Forbes 400 list.
The chief executive of PSP Capital Partners and its affiliate, Pritzker Realty Group, Pritzker has been a major presence in Chicago business and philanthropic circles. She was national finance chairwoman of Obama’s 2008 campaign and cochair of his 2012 re-election campaign.
After Obama was elected in 2008, Pritzker was considered a front-runner for the commerce position. But she withdrew from consideration, reportedly because of potential controversy over her net worth and complex business relationships.
In announcing the nomination Thursday, Obama called Pritzker “one of the country’s most distinguished business leaders,” citing her years of experience in the real estate, hospitality, senior living, financial services and other industries.
“She’s built companies from the ground up. She knows from experience that no government program alone can take the place of a great entrepreneur,” Obama said. “And Penny understands that just as great companies strengthen the community around them, strong communities and skilled workers also help companies thrive.”
Pritzker has served on the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness and helped develop Skills for America’s Future, which the White House described as “an innovative program that brings together businesses, community colleges and others to prepare workers for 21st century jobs and connects them with employment.”
Froman, Obama’s nominee for U.S. trade representative, is the deputy national security adviser for international economics. Previously at the investment bank Citigroup, he has been an aggressive free-trade advocate inside the White House but also a major supporter of policies to ensure that Americans have equal access to markets compared to workers from other countries.
“He has won the respect of our trading partners around the world. He has also won a reputation as being an extraordinarily tough negotiator while doing it,” Obama said. “He does not rest until he’s delivered the best possible deal for American businesses and American workers.”
Noting that Froman was a classmate of his at Harvard Law School, the president quipped: “He was much smarter than me then. He continues to be smarter than me now.”
Froman was the lead White House adviser on free trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, the trade centerpieces of Obama’s first term. He has also been the president’s main emissary at major economic summits and has overseen economic engagement with all parts of the world, from China to the European Union.
Froman served in the administration of former President Bill Clinton and at the Treasury Department.