Who is Wilbur Ross, Trump's pick for Commerce?

Wilbur Ross in 60 seconds
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Story highlights

  • Trump has picked a multi-billionaire, Wall Street veteran to head the Commerce Department.
  • Part of his job would be to help Trump tackle trade.

Washington (CNN)President-elect Donald Trump picked something of a kindred spirit to run his Department of Commerce.

Wilbur Ross is a former Democrat from New York who has amassed a wealth of billions and become an insurgent force in Republican politics. He was a staunch backer of the incoming president and could soon be in a position to shepherd many of Trump's biggest promises through Washington.
The secretary of commerce is responsible for promoting the nation's businesses and ensuring its markets run well. As part of this task, he or she oversees the country's international trade rules, one of Trump's most frequent targets. Although Ross has advocated for the Trans Pacific Partnership, a potential deal Trump has railed against, he has also signaled opposition to free trade deals in the past. In a CNN interview after Trump's selection, Ross said his first goal would be to renegotiate NAFTA.

    What makes Ross right for the job?

    He is an industry veteran who knows the ins and outs of the world of finance and has had a bird's eye view of many industries Trump has spoken about, particularly coal and steel. He has swooped in and rescued these businesses and left them in a successful place. Moreover, his shift from the Democratic Party to the GOP suggests some bipartisan credibility.
    His long standing opposition to some trade deals means he has had his finger on the same pulse currently animating the Trump coalition, as well as politicians on the other side of the aisle opposed to free trade agreements, like Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
    As one of the authors of Trump's economic plan, he could be among the most well poised to deliver to Trump's voters exactly what they asked for.

    What do Ross' critics say?

    Ross can easily be cast as a Wall Street robber baron. He once said on Bloomberg TV that "the 1 percent is being picked on," and he was reportedly the "Grand Swipe," or leader, of Kappa Beta Phi, a secret society on Wall Street.
    His businesses have been forced to pay fines to the government several times, including as recently as August of 2016 to the SEC for failing to disclose fees his firm was charging. In 2013, he sat on the board of a company that agreed to pay over $2 billion in a settlement over its handling of subprime loans.
    And in 2006, 12 people died in an explosion a West Virginia mine his company purchased.
    Additionally, Ross can be criticized for his closeness to Trump, both as a major donor to his campaign and as someone who personally helped Trump in business. In the 1990s, he helped Trump retain control of a failing casino in Atlantic City.
    Further, with no experience in government and decades-long ties to Wall Street, critics point out his lack of qualifications to run a vast government agency and question if he would act on behalf of the people at large as opposed to the narrow interests of the financial sector.
    The secretary of commerce also oversees the collection and distribution of information about the country, from the constitutionally-mandated census to the National Weather Service.

    What made Ross who he is?

    Born in New Jersey and a graduate of both Yale and Harvard, Ross made his career on Wall Street. He worked as a bankruptcy adviser before starting his own firm, purchasing businesses in some industries Trump mentioned frequently on the campaign trail, including coal and steel. Through his efforts, Ross has amassed some $3 billion, although a Bloomberg analysis showed his more recent performance flagging.
    Asked by CNN's Erin Burnett if he represented the elite interests Trump promised to drive out of politics, Ross argued he did not because of his positive relationships with blue collar workers and unions.
    "The fact that you're successful doesn't mean that you can't relate to working people," he said.

    Anything else?

    He would be replacing another billionaire, Penny Pritzker, the current head of Commerce.
    If confirmed, he would be the oldest person ever appointed to head the Commerce Department.
    Ross' nickname is the "King of Bankruptcy," and Trump has repeatedly called himself the "king of debt."