Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Nomination Of Wilbur Ross To Be Secretary Of Commerce

Today, Mr. Ross joins the growing list of billionaires appointed by the Trump administration.  It is not their wealth that concerns me, but their past conflicts with the agencies they are promoted to lead and support, providing guidance for policy and for administration of the laws.  It is for this reason I cannot support Mr. Ross today.

Every American has a stake in the strength of our economy.  We rely on the Department of Commerce to facilitate trade, investment, and innovation in a direction that ensures long term benefits for Americans.  Today, while the wealthiest among us continue to profit, middle class families are working long hours to pay their bills and put food on their tables. The cost of living is outstripping their family budgets, and we must get ahead of this curve.

Mr. Ross has a background of buying fledging companies, and while he might turn around the profit margins of those companies, it is at the cost of American jobs.  He has been called fair and practical, but has also committed his career in business by expanding in low-cost countries like Mexico and China. The economic policies of this country cannot be built on representing the interests of rich investors, but must also be creative in spurring job growth in American communities where industry has disappeared.  We can shape our global trade policy in ways that benefit the United States, without having to do so under the assumption that the United States needs to operate in isolation in order to realize economic success.  We can build industry at home, while partnering abroad in trade for our products.  But it will take the commitment of the next Secretary to focus on our human capital as innovators, and not as mere cost considerations.  

Although America’s role in the global market is expanding, our closest trade partner remains across our Northern Border.  Each year we export hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of goods and services to Canada, making it our largest export market in the world.  Vermont is an active contributor to this flow of commerce.  Supporting initiatives that strengthen this partnership will benefit local businesses in Vermont and across the nation.  Mr. Ross wants to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, and while we can debate the merits of NAFTA, the talk of renegotiating this agreement without the partnership of Mexico and Canada has many Vermont businesses concerned about the implications for their future and for the Vermont jobs that depend on our export markets. 

We live in a global economy, and I work with Vermont businesses every day who rely on importing goods and materials in order to successfully create a final products that are a combination of U.S. and foreign made.  This is the reality for many businesses today.  I do not criticize the decisions a business owner makes for the quality of their product.  But every large corporation makes a choice between cheaper overseas labor and materials, or investing in the workforce here at home for greater gains in the future.  That is a choice that Mr.  Ross has made on several occasions, for the benefit of profits, not workers.

I have said it time and again, but America thrives when our middle class is strong.  As Secretary, Mr. Ross will be expected to represent the interests of all Americans.  I hope he takes this commitment seriously, and works across party lines to create new industry and opportunity that take root in the very communities that suffer from lack of it.  The Secretary of Commerce cannot look at individuals as statistics of profit or loss, but must understand the innovative spirit that brings opportunity where it may otherwise be lost.

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