Senate confirms Wilbur Ross as Commerce secretary

Senate confirms Wilbur Ross as Commerce secretary

The Senate approved Wilbur Ross to lead President Trump’s Commerce Department on Monday evening. 

The final vote on Ross was 72-27. 

Ross was widely expected to be approved Monday night after he overcame a procedural hurdle earlier this month in a 66-31 vote that included the support of more than a dozen Democrats.

But lawmakers appeared divided by his nomination ahead of Monday’s final vote.

Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonSteyer brings his push to impeach Trump to town halls across the nation Overnight Defense: Senate sides with Trump on military role in Yemen | Dem vets push for new war authorization on Iraq anniversary | General says time isn't 'right' for space corps Senate sides with Trump on providing Saudi military support MORE (Fla.), the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, went to bat for Ross ahead of the vote and urged Democrats to support him.

“He is certainly qualified to do this job, and he gave extensive answers during his confirmation hearing before the Commerce Committee,” Nelson said.

He said he thought Ross was a “very good selection” and praised him for being willing to enter public service “at his age.” Ross is 79.

Ross’s nomination has been largely uncontroversial, though Democrats are raising fresh concerns about whether he has ties to Russia.

In a letter obtained by McClatchy earlier this month, they questioned Ross's relationship with Viktor Vekselberg, a shareholder at a bank where Ross still sits on the board.

Vekselberg is friends with Russian President Vladimir Putin and was formerly one of the directors of the Russian state-controlled oil giant Rosneft.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) separately sent Ross a letter on Friday asking him to answer nearly a dozen questions on his “Russian banking ties.”

“The United States Senate and the American public deserve to know the full extent of your connections with Russia and your knowledge of any ties between the Trump Administration, Trump Campaign, or Trump Organization and the Bank of Cyprus,” Booker wrote in the letter.

The queries come amid questions about the Trump administration and campaign’s ties to Russia.  

But Nelson noted on Monday that he had spoken with Ross about the matter and had been assured that Ross only met with the bank’s Russian investors once in 2014.

“That was before the presidential campaign,” he said. “He also assured me that he knows of no loans or interaction between the bank or anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign or organization.”

But Nelson specifically blasted the White House, arguing senators are “extremely troubled and frustrated” by apparent stonewalling in their request to get Ross’s answers to their written questions.

“[Ross] has told me he’s already filled out the answers in writing,” Nelson said. “So there’s somebody in the White House that is making the decision that they don’t want the Senate to have in writing what Mr. Ross has told me in private conversation verbally.”

Ross coasted through his confirmation hearing last month, where he faced few tough questions from lawmakers and spent most of his time explaining his position on finance policy.

And Republicans have rallied around his nomination.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGOP leaders to Trump: Leave Mueller alone Toyota halts self-driving car tests on public roads Senate Commerce presses Facebook, Cambridge Analytica for answers on data MORE (R-S.D.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, argued on Monday that Ross’s nomination had been “unnecessary delayed” by Democratic tactics.

“It’s high time we got this position filled and got this experienced person — someone who has a wide range of know how all across the business sector and our economy — into a position where he can make a difference in helping create jobs and grow this economy for our country,” Thune said.

Ross served as an adviser to Trump during the campaign.

He made a fortune rehabilitating American steel companies and later fashioned his corporate turnaround experience into a private equity investment company.

He’s expected to be a significant player in trade negotiations, and the vote comes one day after Trump signed an executive order announcing his plan to withdraw the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

But some Democrats remained critical of Ross’s experience and his potential ties to Russia.

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenMichael Moore: Russia, Stormy Daniels stories are 'shiny keys to distract us' Fix the flaw in financial self-regulation Power struggle threatens to sink bank legislation MORE (D-Mass.) said she does not “have confidence” that Ross would “protect the interests of the American people.”

“He is a Wall Street billionaire with a long history of profiting from the suffering of others,” she said from the Senate floor. “He also has shady ties to Vladimir Putin’s Russia. That’s just his record.”