Penny Pritzker, the billionaire Chicago businesswoman, was approved by the U.S. Senate Tuesday to become the next Commerce secretary.
The overwhelming 97-1 vote came a little less than two months after President Barack Obama nominated the Hyatt hotel heiress to the role.
“Penny is a proven leader, a successful entrepreneur, and one of the most accomplished and highly-respected women in business today,” Obama said following the Senate’s 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.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who identifies as a socialist but caucuses with Senate Democrats, was the sole “no” vote on approving Pritzker. In a statement following the vote, Sanders noted the complaints from union workers who opposed Pritzker’s elevation to Commerce secretary. As a leading figure in the Hyatt hotel empire, Pritzker found her nomination bitterly opposed by many of the chain’s union employees who question the company’s business practices.
“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 wrote following the vote. “Ms. Pritzker served on the board one of the most anti-worker hotel chains in this country. Workers at Hyatt have been unjustly fired for trying to form a union to collectively bargain for better wages and benefits. Unfortunately, Ms. Pritzker chose not to defend those employees.”
Testifying during her confirmation hearing, Pritzker defended herself against charges she was harboring assets in offshore accounts — a politically sensitive issue for Obama in the wake of last year’s election.
Democrats repeatedly criticized GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012 for stashing some his wealth outside of the United States.
Pritzker, testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee, conceded that she is the “beneficiary of offshore family trusts” established when she was a “little girl” but that she doesn’t currently control them.
With a net worth estimated at $1.85 billion by Forbes Magazine, Pritzker, a business executive and heiress to the family that founded the Hyatt hotel chain, will become one of the wealthiest Cabinet members in U.S. history.
During her confirmation hearing, Pritzker was not asked about an amendment she made to her financial disclosure reform earlier this year after initially underreporting her income by nearly $80 million.
Pritzker, a key fundraiser for both of Obama’s two White House campaigns, was considered a front-runner for Commerce secretary following the 2008 election until questions were raised about her finances.
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