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Billionaire Wilbur Ross Expected to be Named Trump's Commerce Secretary

  • VOA News

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump stands with Wilbur Ross after their meeting at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., Nov. 20, 2016.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump stands with Wilbur Ross after their meeting at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., Nov. 20, 2016.

Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross is said to be President-elect Donald Trump's choice for commerce secretary, according to news accounts citing unnamed sources.

Ross, a 78-year-old chairman of a private equity firm, is known in financial circles as the "king of bankruptcy" for buying and restoring distressed companies to profitability.

As commerce secretary, Ross would represent U.S. businesses domestically and abroad. Ross would lead the department that carries out the incoming president's stated goal of protecting U.S. workers and challenging years of globalization that has primarily benefited multinational corporations.

After developing a specialty as a banker in bankruptcy and corporate restructuring, Ross launched W.L. Ross in 2000 and earned part of his fortune by investing in troubled factories in the industrial midwestern United States, sometimes generating profits by limiting employee benefits.

Campaign promises

Trump received strong support among voters in the Midwest by promising to create more manufacturing jobs through renegotiated trade deals and by penalizing factories that outsourced their jobs to other countries.

Some critics have accused Ross of sometimes restructuring ailing companies at the expense of workers' safety. In one case, 12 coal miners were killed in 2006 at a mine he owned in Sago, West Virginia. Federal safety inspectors eventually cited the coal mine with 208 violations.

FILE - Twelve ribbons line a fence in front of the Sago Mine in Sago, West Virginia, Jan. 8, 2006. The ribbons honor the 12 miners who died in the Sago Mine after an explosion on January 2.

FILE - Twelve ribbons line a fence in front of the Sago Mine in Sago, West Virginia, Jan. 8, 2006. The ribbons honor the 12 miners who died in the Sago Mine after an explosion on January 2.

Ross has said he was aware of the violations but was assured by management the mine was "safe."

Ross sold the coal mine five years later to Arch Coal for $3.4 billion.

If Ross is nominated as commerce secretary, his business dealings and investments will likely be scrutinized during Senate confirmation hearings.

As commerce secretary, many experts believe the Wall Street insider would have to refrain from being involved in his business affairs, place his investments in a blind trust and resign from corporate boards.

Cabinet selections

Trump's pace at selecting Cabinet officials has been quicker than most recent incoming presidents, despite reports of confusion in his presidential transition process. Trump's first Cabinet selection, Jeff Sessions as attorney general, was made on November 18.

FILE - Then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump stands next to Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., as Sessions speaks during a rally in Madison, Ala., Feb. 28, 2016.

FILE - Then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump stands next to Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., as Sessions speaks during a rally in Madison, Ala., Feb. 28, 2016.

The Washington Post reports that only two of the 70 cabinet members picked by president-elects since 1980 were made by November 18. Those appointees were nominated by George H.W. Bush.

In 2008, when Election Day was four days earlier than this year's, incoming President Barack Obama had not made any Cabinet selections by November 17.

The first Cabinet appointees for the five incoming presidents since 1980 were chosen by an average of 32 days before Inauguration Day in January.

The Cabinet positions for which nominations have been made most quickly have been, on average, the heads of the departments of Commerce, Justice and Treasury. The exception is the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, which was created in 2003 following the terrorist attacks on the U.S. on September 11.

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