Obama’s Nominees: Who Stands a Chance?

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With a second term comes a new round of presidential nominations for cabinet positions and agency heads. The hyper-partisan Obama years have been marked by remarkable difficulty in getting nominations through the Senate confirmation process, and even as Obama fills out his cabinet, many key leadership roles elsewhere in government remain empty. The confirmation struggles of the president’s first term are repeating themselves, as Republicans seek to block many — but not all — of his new nominations.

Penny Pritzker — Secretary of Commerce

Penny Pritzker listens in the Rose Garden of the White House on Thursday, May 2, 2013, where President Obama announced he would nominate her for Commerce Secretary. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Status: Awaiting Senate confirmation vote.

Hyatt hotel scion and billionaire investor Penny Pritzker is a major Obama fundraiser and bundler who co-chaired his 2012 campaign, bundling over $500,000 and personally contributing $250,000 to this year’s inauguration. Profiles of Pritzker note her toughness: She earned a law degree and MBA in the same year and, famously, managed to finish her first Ironman triathalon after spraining her ankle in the first mile of the marathon. Her family is known, The New York Times writes, “as innovators in the use of offshore trusts and foreign bank secrecy laws to shelter their wealth from income, capital gains and inheritance taxes.”

“This is the second nominee in a row, Jack Lew being the first, who’s associated with the kind of tax avoidance activity that the president dismisses as fat cat shenanigans for others,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said after her nomination. “It’s hypocritical to overlook tax avoidance when it’s convenient.” Pritzker told The New York Times in 2008 that the offshore investments were established when she was a child and that she does not control how they are administered.

Republican senators aren’t the only ones speaking out against Pritzker. Unite Here, the labor union that represents employees of Hyatt hotels, announced its opposition to her appointment on Monday. The union is in a battle with management over wages and has alleged worker safety violations at the chain for years. A recent 18-month investigation by federal authorities found no major violations.

But Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), ranking member on the Senate Commerce Committee, said Pritzker is likely to be confirmed quickly. “She’s got a great background that’s very much needed in the current administration,” he said. “We’ll wind this thing up probably in the next work period.”

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