The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Tuesday approved the nominations of Wilbur Ross Jr. to serve as commerce secretary and of Elaine Chao to be the next secretary of transportation.
Both nominations were advanced by voice vote. While no objections were recorded for either nominee, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) entered into the record a conversation she had with Ross regarding his potential conflicts of interest in Asian markets.
Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said he hopes Chao and Ross receive a full Senate vote by Tuesday afternoon.
“These are non-controversial,” Thune told reporters after the committee vote. “And unless the Democrats — just for purposes of political advantage — want to string it out, they can do that. But I’m hoping it’ll clear up and we’ll get them voted on today.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other Democrats have argued that the business interests of several nominees deserve greater scrutiny before they receive a full Senate confirmation vote. Last week Schumer named eight nominees being targeted by Senate Democrats; neither Chao nor Ross are on the list.
Ross, a billionaire investor with experience restructuring coal and steel companies, told senators during his confirmation hearing last week that he believes broadband deployment should be part of any federal infrastructure plan enacted by the Trump administration. He also expressed concern that driverless trucks could take away jobs.
Chao, who served as labor secretary under former President George W. Bush, will be at the forefront of the debate over autonomous vehicles since the Transportation Department is the federal agency that would be tasked with developing safety regulations for driverless cars.