(MCT) WASHINGTON — The prospect of Chicago billionaire Penny Pritzker taking the top job at the Commerce Department gained momentum Thursday, two weeks after her strong showing at a nomination hearing in the Senate.
Pritzker, 54, tapped by President Barack Obama, is a business executive and Democratic mega-donor whose family founded the Hyatt Hotels chain and is among the nation’s wealthiest.
She cleared two hurdles Thursday, when the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation scheduled a vote for Monday on the nomination, and its top Republican lawmaker, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., announced he would back her.
The committee’s approval has never been in doubt.
Meantime Thursday, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, a potential foe of Pritzker, said through an aide that he will meet and question her Tuesday, but has no plans to hold up her nomination to become commerce secretary.
In his statement announcing he will vote for Pritzker, Thune took a swipe at Obama and raised concerns that mirrored Grassley’s. “While the president has had strong words for others who have benefited from off-shore tax havens, we should not let his double standard on this issue stand in the way of a qualified nominee,” Thune said.
Last year, Obama hammered GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney for his off-shore wealth.
After her nomination, Pritzker, whose wealth has been estimated at $1.85 billion, requested the holdings in overseas trusts be moved to the U.S.
Thune, in his statement, said he expected Pritzker, if confirmed by the full Senate, will “use her private sector background to be a strong voice for lowering regulatory burdens, lowering taxes for businesses large and small, and promoting job creation.”
Thune also said he welcomed her commitment to work to make more of the federal spectrum available for wireless mobile services, which he called a “critical part of driving our innovation economy.”
When Obama announced on May 2 that he intended to nominate Pritzker, Grassley was sharply critical of Obama.
Grassley, who does not sit on the Commerce Committee, will take up his own questions with Pritzker on Tuesday and remains undecided on how he’ll vote, his aide said.
The Iowa lawmaker called it hypocritical for Obama to “overlook tax avoidance when it’s convenient” while dismissing the practice as “fat cat shenanigans” when other people are involved.
Pritzker was the national finance chair of Obama’s 2008 campaign and a co-chair of his 2012 campaign.
She is chairman and CEO of PSP Capital Partners and its affiliate, the Pritzker Realty Group. She is a co-founder and chairman of Artemis Real Estate Partners. She has a law degree and MBA from Stanford.
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