Making her first major speech since leaving office, former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker on Tuesday night took a thinly veiled shot at Trump administration ethics lapses and made a more direct hit at President Donald Trump’s economic policies.
“You can’t wing it,” Pritzker told the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, where she was honored with the Council’s annual Global Leadership Awards Dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel, 120 E. Delaware Pl.
“But when I look at the current administration, I do not see them laying a foundation that opens doors broadly for our businesses, trains our workforce, or sustainably addresses the economic anxieties of our people,” said Pritzker, who served during former President Barack Obama’s second term.
Pulling back from trade deals, taking a hard line on immigration and climate change — among other items — means “We risk shooting ourselves in the foot. What is needed, urgently, is a coherent strategy and long-term vision to ensure that we’re prepared to compete and win in the global economy,” said Pritzker.
The dinner, a major fundraising event for the Council, was co-chaired by Leah Joy Zell, the founder of Lizard Investors; Democrat William Daley, a former Commerce Secretary under President Bill Clinton and Republican Craig Duchossois, in the news on Wednesday for a $100 million gift to the University of Chicago Medicine to establish The Duchossois Family Institute.
Pritzker just returned to Chicago from an Asian swing, in Tokyo for the 2017 Pritzker Prize for Architecture award ceremony a few days ago with a stop in Hong Kong before that.
Pritzker is back in the private sector, the chairman of the company she founded, PSP Capital Partners, a private investment firm headquartered in the Loop. Her brother, J.B. Pritzker, is running in the Democratic Illinois gubernatorial primary; she made no mention of his candidacy in her speech.
Before joining the Obama administration, Pritzker, a member of the billionaire Pritzker clan, went to great lengths to divest herself from her complex financial world, a vast network of companies, real estate and other investments.
In a vivid contrast, Trump, who claims to be a billionaire, kept ownership of his wide-ranging holdings, drawing the sharp criticism of Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub Jr., who on Wednesday was battling the Trump White House over its refusal to release ethics waivers issued for Trump appointees with potential conflicts of interest.
Ethics questions have been raised about business ties related to Trump son-in-law/White House advisor Jared Kushner.
“While in government, I resigned from every one of our businesses and I complied, fully, with the rules of the Office of Government Ethics,” said Pritzker, making an unsubtle point without using names that if there is a will, there is a way.
“Now that I am home, I am doing something I love — building businesses and organizations. Through our foundation, Bryan and I are continuing to invest in our city and its people. And I plan to continue to be a voice on issues that I care about,” she said.
Turning to the economy, Pritzker said she was “deeply concerned that the policies being advanced by the current administration will undermine our nation’s economic growth and long-term competitiveness.”
Trump’s policies come with an economic cost, she said, noting that the ban on travel from six mainly Muslim nations – now blocked in courts — to the “extreme vetting” that is scaring off foreign students and tourists — to pulling out of trade agreements — means less revenue generated in the U.S.
“The president and his team are fixated on reversing our trade deficits. It has become an obsession — one that is fundamentally misplaced.
“Indeed, any economist will tell you that trade deficits are not a good measure of the strength of an economy, and they are an even worse measure of whether a trade agreement is working.
“What really concerns me is the time being wasted trying to fix our trade deficits. Rather than working with partners and allies to open new markets for American businesses and workers, the Administration seems to be spending its time looking for ways to raise new barriers.
“. . . But deals cannot only be “America First.” They have to benefit our partners, too. When it comes to trade, that is the real art of the deal.”
Pritzker left the Commerce Department intending to keep her hand in public policy and using the big platform that she has. The speech on Tuesday was a public start.
Said Pritzker, “That will be my work in the days and years ahead.”