Senate votes 97-1 to confirm Obama's nominee to head Commerce

“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 said Tuesday. 

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"Ms. Pritzker served on the board of 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."

In a statement after her May 23 confirmation hearing, Hyatt said their employees in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Waikiki had not received wage hikes for nearly four years because the group UniteHere "won't allow our associates to vote on new contracts unless Hyatt agrees to impose unionization on employees at other Hyatt hotels".

"It's a shame UniteHere leaders are sacrificing the needs of those they represent in order to build their membership. It's time they let our associates vote on new contracts," the email said at the time. 

Sanders also voted against U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, who sailed through the Senate last week on a 93-4 vote, with all Democrats in opposition, and was sworn into this new job on Friday. 

"Penny is a proven leader, a successful entrepreneur, and one of the most accomplished and highly respected women in business today," Obama said in a statement. 

"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. Penny will be a key member of my economic team as we continue to work to grow our economy and strengthen the middle class."

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) called Pritzker “an extraordinary person."

“She stepped up years ago and said to her father that she wanted to play a role in business leadership,” Durbin said. “She became very successful. ... Her decades of experience will serve her well.”

Earlier this month, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee unanimously approved Pritzker's nomination. 

She had been expected to face tougher questioning through the confirmation process but quickly managed to satisfy her critics, who questioned her about funds she has in offshore accounts and businesses decisions she made a decade ago. 

She told lawmakers the accounts were set up when she was a young girl and that she does not direct or control them and had disclosed all information required by the Senate. 

She also tried to clear up what she considered was a limited role in the failure of Superior Bank, which was reportedly engaged in subprime mortgage lending back into the early 1990s up until its demise in the early 2000s.

Pritzker told the committee that she regretted the failure of the bank and that she personally spoke to the head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to arrange for the family to pay about $450 million in compensation to account holders. 

In her new role she will be expected to call on her business experience to suggest ways that Congress and the White House can do to spur job creation, especially for young people and the long-term unemployed, who are struggling to find work. 

Pritzker, who is listed by Forbes as the 277th richest person in the United States, with a net worth of $1.85 billion, was a major fundraiser for Obama’s presidential 2008 campaign.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said Pritzker embodies "excellence in public service" and she will "truly be a great Secretary of Commerce in my view.” 

"I believe she has the skills and acumen to build strong relationships in the federal government but also strong relationships in private sector industries.”

"I don’t think the president could have picked anybody better," Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said ahead of the vote. “She is a force of nature, that’s the thing I want people to understand. ... I cannot imagine a more perfect person to run the Department of Commerce than Penny Pritzker.”

Pritzker replaces John Bryson, who resigned a year ago citing medical reasons after suffering a seizure that caused a series of nearly simultaneous car accidents.