Obama rounds out economic team commerce, trade rep nominations

WASHINGTON, May 2 (UPI) -- President Obama nominated billionaire business executive Penny Pritzker as commerce secretary and adviser Mike Froman as U.S. trade representative Thursday.

Pritzker and Froman both recognize U.S. workers "are most competitive in world so they deserve a level playing field," Obama said when presenting the nominees before he left for Mexico and Costa Rica.


Pritzker recognizes "no government program alone can take place of great entrepreneurs," Obama said.

"She's got extraordinary experience," Obama said, "and today is her birthday! For your birthday present you get to go through [Senate] confirmation."

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"It's going to be great," he said to laughter.

Pritzker, 53, a close friend of Obama's and a fellow Chicagoan who was the national finance chairman of his 2008 presidential campaign, would succeed acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank, who took over for John Bryson when he took a medical leave of absence last June following a series of car accidents attributed to a seizures.

Pritzker's nomination could prove controversial, the Chicago Tribune said. She is a board member of Hyatt Hotels Corp., which her family founded, and has had shaky relations with labor unions.


Also, Pritzker could face stiff questioning about the failure of a bank partly owned by her family, the Tribune said.

Forbes magazine listed Pritzker, with an estimated personal fortune of $1.85 billion, among the 300 wealthiest Americans.

Froman, who would succeed Ron Kirk as U.S. trade representative if confirmed by the Senate, "has established himself as expert on global economy," Obama said.

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Besides being Obama's point person at several global forums, Froman worked with Kirk in negotiating several trade agreements.

Froman, 50, an Obama classmate at Harvard Law School, has advised Obama on international economics and security issues for the past four years.

Froman has a reputation of being a tough negotiator who the president said will guard the interests of U.S. workers and businesses and has "fought to make sure countries that break rules are held accountable."

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Obama said the two nominees "don't forget what matters" and are focused on securing opportunities for people.

"Most of all, they operate with integrity," the president said.

Obama urged the Senate to confirm them quickly because "I intend to work them to the bone when it becomes official."

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