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Obama taps fundraiser Pritzker for Commerce, Froman for trade job

President Obama on Thursday rounded out his second-term economic team by tapping Chicago businesswoman Penny Pritzker for Commerce secretary and Mike Froman to be the next U.S. Trade Representative.

Pritzker, a billionaire heiress to the Hyatt hotel fortune, is a long-time supporter of the president and one of his most prominent fundraisers. Froman, who already serves as a top adviser to Obama on trade, is a longtime friend of the president dating back to his law school days.

Obama announced the nominations before departing for a two-day trip to Mexico, saying the two would be tasked to work together and "deepen trade relationships" that will provide U.S. businesses entry into growing markets.

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Pritzker had long been rumored to be the favorite choice to replace Rebecca Blank, who is serving as acting Commerce secretary. Obama lavished praise on Pritzker, who led his fundraising team during his 2008 campaign, and noted she has built companies from the "ground up."

"She knows from experience that no government program alone can take the place of a great entrepreneur," Obama said. 

"She knows that what we can do is to give every business and every worker the best possible chance to succeed by making America a magnet for good jobs."

Pritzker has also served on the president’s jobs council and Economic Recovery Advisory Board. Her nomination would add another prominent female name to the president’s Cabinet after charges that his second-term team lacked enough women and minority candidates.


Since those criticisms earlier this year, Obama has tapped Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx to head the Department of Transportation, Thomas Perez for Labor and a number of high-profile women, including Sally Jewell who was confirmed as Interior Secretary and Sylvia Mathews Burwell at the Office of Management and Budget.

Pritzker could also play a key role in helping smooth ties between Obama and the business community. 

“Penny has spent her adult life not only in the business world, but also in public and civic affairs, which is why business and community leaders and elected officials from both sides of the aisle support her nomination,” said an administration official.

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) expressed support for the Pritzker nomination. 

"Penny brings to the table an extensive business background and understands what it takes for businesses to create jobs," said NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons in a statement. 

Timmons said that her uncle, Bob, had served as chairman of the association.

"Penny has also partnered with manufacturers on important initiatives to address our nation's critical need for skilled workers and understands the severity of the skills gap," he said. 

Froman, currently Obama’s deputy national security adviser for international economics, would take over the nation’s top trade post.

The president called Froman one of the "world's foremost experts on the economy," a key negotiator on free-trade agreements inked with South Korea, Panama and Colombia and someone who has "won respect of our trading partners around the world."

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) called Froman the right choice for the job.

"The administration is sending a clear signal that trade is a top priority," he said. "He has been an instrumental player in trade negotiations over the last four years and will hit the ground running."

“Strengthening our trade ties with Europe and across the Pacific is one of my top priorities for the next year and a half, and I’m eager to work with the administration to make sure those trade agreements bolster our economy and create jobs, including through swift passage of trade promotion authority.”

House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) welcomed Froman's nomination and urged him to move forward with bipartisan trade promotion authority legislation.

"I am confident that his skills and experience will stand him in good stead as he leads the administration's trade policy and takes the helm at one of the most professional and productive agencies in the U.S. government," Camp said.

If confirmed, Froman would play a key role in negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) between the U.S. and 11 other nations, including Japan, Mexico and Canada, as well as lead the launching of new trade talks between the U.S. and European Union later this summer.

Froman will replace Demetrios Marantis, the acting U.S. Trade Representative, who assumed the post after former Trade Representative Ron Kirk stepped down in late February.

Vicki Needham contributed.

This story was first posted at 7:08 a.m. and has been updated.