After a week off, the Senate continued its work to confirm President Donald Trump’s cabinet appointees on Monday. Wilbur Ross, a billionaire investor and businessman, easily passed the Senate with a vote of 72-27.
As Commerce Secretary, Ross will play a prominent role in the negotiation and implementation of Trump’s promised alterations to U.S. trade policy. Trump has tapped Ross to lead NAFTA renegotiation talks, a responsibility previously left to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
Ross represents a more moderate voice in Trump’s team of economic advisors, having benefitted from free trade deals and outsourcing in the past. Speaking at his confirmation hearing in January, Ross expressed his support for free trade, but also echoed Trump’s emphasis on fairness:
“I think tariffs play a role both as a negotiating tool and where necessary to punish those who don’t play by the rules.”
Ross’ fortune is the product of numerous investments in struggling businesses that were often related to textile, coal, and auto part production. Ross’ net worth is estimated by Forbes to be $2.9 billion.
Ross enjoyed a relatively smooth confirmation process, unlike several of Trump’s other cabinet appointees. His commitment to supporting American industry earned support from both sides of the aisle.
After the confirmation hearing, Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said:
“I believe his extensive management experience in the private sector, and his understanding of the challenges faced by workers and businesses alike, will equip him well for the job of leading the Department of Commerce.”
Ross’ confirmation comes in the midst of preparation efforts for anticipated NAFTA renegotiation talks with Mexico. In an interview Monday morning, Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo warned the Trump administration that he would not tolerate proposals for new tariffs. He said:
“The moment that they say, ‘We’re going to put a 20 percent tariff on cars,’ I get up from the table.”
Despite sharp disagreements between Mexican government and the Trump administration over tariff policy and Trump’s campaign promise to make Mexico pay for the construction of a border wall, Guajardo remains optimistic about NAFTA renegotiations, which are expected to begin in June:
“I think there is a way to find a very good agreement that will be a win-win for the three countries.”
Ross will be a pivotal figure in shaping that agreement, and his confirmation marks a step forward for the Trump administration in fulfilling key campaign promises.