Transition

Trump taps billionaires to lead Commerce

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President-elect Donald Trump has tapped two billionaires, Wilbur Ross and Todd Ricketts, to serve in the top two positions at the Commerce Department.

Ross has been considered the leading candidate for Commerce secretary for some time. His nomination and that of Ricketts for deputy secretary were confirmed Nov. 30 by Trump's communications director, Sean Spicer.

Commerce's mission is to represent U.S. economic interests domestically and internationally, but the department is also home to several IT-intensive bureaus. If approved, the nomination would put Ross, a 79-year-old investor who made his multibillion-dollar fortune from distressed investments such as floundering steel plants and coal mines, in charge of the Census Bureau, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

"Wilbur Ross is a champion of American manufacturing and knows how to help companies succeed," Trump said in a statement. "Most importantly, he is one of the greatest negotiators I have ever met, and that comes from me, the author of 'The Art of the Deal.' Together, we will take on the special interests and stand up for American jobs."

Politically, Ross has an unorthodox background. Since serving on the board of the U.S.-Russia Investment Fund during President Bill Clinton's administration, Ross has been a consistent Republican donor and served as an adviser to Rudy Giuliani when he was mayor of New York City.

Trump, who dubbed himself the king of debt during his campaign, has a professional and political history with the so-called king of bankruptcy.

When Trump's Taj Mahal casino went under in the early 1990s, Ross, a bondholder in the casino, helped prevent the investment from collapsing into immediate bankruptcy.

"We could have foreclosed [on the Trump Taj Mahal], and he would have been gone," Ross told the New York Post.

Ross was also an early and generous supporter of Trump's presidential campaign. As a key adviser, he helped shape Trump's steep corporate tax-cut policy and infrastructure plan and is aligned with Trump's positions on international trade agreements.

According to the Federal Election Commission, Ross donated $200,000 to Trump's joint fundraising committee with the Republican Party, in addition to the maximum $2,700 allowed directly to Trump's campaign.

Ricketts co-owns the Chicago Cubs Major League Baseball team, and his father founded the investment bank TD Ameritrade. Ricketts initially supported Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in the GOP presidential primary, which prompted a minatory tweet from Trump.

The Ricketts family consists of longtime, major Republican donors, though, unlike Ross, no donations were directly given to Trump in Todd Ricketts' name.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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