Commerce Secretary nominee Wilbur Ross reassured senators so often during his confirmation hearing Wednesday that several members of Congress offered a suggestion: Perhaps Donald Trump should follow his Cabinet pick’s lead.
Ross, a 79-year-old veteran private equity investor with a net worth approaching $3 billion, had already impressed the senators by agreeing in a filing this week to divest some 90% of his financial holdings and resign more than 40 professional titles.
By the end of the nearly four-hour hearing, there seemed little doubt that Ross would be approved for the job. “This hearing is a piece of cake compared to some of the other nominees that are going through the process,” Sen. Bill Nelson, the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Commerce Committee, said in wrapping up the proceedings. (By comparison, the confirmation hearing for Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson lasted nine hours.)
During the questioning, Ross addressed a wide swath of topics that could fall under his domain as secretary of commerce, from renegotiating the trade agreement with Mexico and Canada known as NAFTA (he and Trump plan to tackle that first), to tourism in Cuba (he’s never been), to illegal steel dumping (he vowed to crack down and punish offenders), and even fishing and king crabs (he thinks we should be eating more homegrown seafood, rather than importing it). He also expressed a great deal of skepticism about Chinese efforts to invest in U.S. tech and media companies.
At times, Ross defended some of the less popular actions of his soon-to-be-boss Trump, such as the President-elect’s decision to pass along some of his business interests to family members rather than completely divesting them as Ross himself had. “I think it’s for him to judge,” Ross said. “I’m not intimate enough with the details of his holdings to even have a clear understanding of just how extensive they are, although I know they’re quite huge.” He further resisted senators’ calls for a promise that he would report any attempt by a U.S. trade partner to use Trump family assets as leverage —whether as a threat or incentive —in negotiations.
But Ross also seemed to break with Trump by expressing confidence in climate change research, revealing a passion for data and new technology that served as a common thread underpinning many of his responses. As head of the Commerce Department, after all, Ross will have primary oversight of national cybersecurity policy.
Here’s what Ross had to say about technology issues during his confirmation hearing —from driverless cars to cyberattacks to the Internet of things:
Ross: “I think cyber, if nothing else, was a big enough issue in the [presidential] campaign that everybody is very sensitized to it for very local reasons.
Ross (responding to a question about the most lucrative opportunities for the U.S.): “The things we’re the best at in many ways are the technologically advanced things.
INTERNET OF THINGS
Ross: “I think all aspects of Internet need encouragement.
Ross: “I’m a very big proponent of cloud.
FOREIGN TECH INVESTMENT
Ross: “One of the most important questions facing us right now…is also little high-tech companies making little venture capital investments, and maybe the investments aren’t so significant but the technology perhaps is.
Ross (responding to a question from Senator Ted Cruz about the Commerce Department’s recent decision to allow privatization of the Internet’s management system, known as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which transferred from U.S. government control to an international consortium in October):
Ross’s business and financial interests, many of which he has pledged to divest, run the gamut across industries, and include venture capital, private equity and hedge funds; stakes in foreign and domestic banks as well as in energy, shipping and mining companies; and shares in Apple (aapl), cyber security company FireEye (feye) and airplane manufacturer Boeing (ba). Given the wide range of interests that the Commerce Department touches, it’s perhaps no surprise that Ross is shedding so many of those ties.