Washington: The US Senate confirmed billionaire banker and investor Wilbur L. Ross 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 (NAFTA).
By a vote of 72 to 27 on Monday, 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’ top priority when he takes over the job, the New York Times reported.
Dubbed the “King of Bankruptcy” for his leveraged buyouts of battered companies in the steel, coal, textile and banking industries, Ross has generated a fortune of $2.5 billion, ranking him among the wealthiest 250 people in America, according to Forbes.
Ross, 79, has indicated he will step down from the Bank of Cyprus after he takes office, according to reports.
The White House is expected to hold a swearing-in ceremony for the new Commerce Secretary on Tuesday prior to Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress.
During his confirmation hearing in mid-January, Ross pushed for taking a tough stance on China, which he called the “most protectionist country of very large countries”.
The then commerce secretary nominee said countries that resort to “malicious” trading tactics should be “severely” punished.
Ross led an auto parts company that moved jobs to Mexico, while a textile firm he founded opened a cotton plant in Vietnam that would employ 1,500 workers, said the New York Times.
Trump praised Ross as a savvy businessman and one of the most valuable advisers in his administration.
Ross agreed to divest of nearly all of his personal holdings and resigned from dozens of boards and organisations to take the Commerce SEcretary post.
“I am not anti-trade, I am pro-trade, but I am pro-sensible trade, not pro-trade that is to the disadvantage of the American worker in the American manufacturing community,” Ross said in his confirmation hearing on January 18.
Ross’s confirmation was largely uncontroversial, though Sen. Cory Booker and other Democrats asked the billionaire in recent days to clarify his business ties to Russian shareholders while serving on the board of directors of a Cypriot bank.
“Wilbur Ross is practically a cartoon stereotype of a Wall Street fat cat with no interest in anyone but himself,” Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, wrote on Twitter.
On the Senate floor ahead of the vote, Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader, accused Ross of having questionable business ties to Russia.
The Senate was also holding a closure vote on Representative Ryan Zinke of Montana, Trump’s nominee for interior secretary. A full vote is expected for Zinke later this week.