What is it about Penny Pritzker?


Billionaire Penny Pritzker was received warmly at a Senate committee hearing. (MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA)
Al Kamen
Columnist May 23, 2013

And here we thought Senate Republicans were sharpening their knives for Penny Pritzker , the billionaire hotel and real estate magnate nominated by President Obama to be commerce secretary. But during her first Capitol Hill hearing Thursday, the GOP seemed to have donned kid gloves just for the occasion.

The session at the Senate Commerce Committee was downright nice, with so many
“I-look-forward-to-working-with-you”s and the like that you’d swear that they, well, looked forward to working with her.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Sure, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) pressed her about a touchy topic, the failure in the 1990s of Superior Bank, which her family co-owned.

But for the most part, it was a quite affable affair.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) offered her a compliment: “You know more about that than most anyone else in this room,” he said about efforts to encourage foreign tourism.

Even the oft-blustery Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said he had “enjoyed visiting” with her earlier in the week and seemed admiring of something she had said in that meeting. “In the course of that conversation,” he recalled, “you said you were an enthusiastic and unapologetic advocate of free trade.” He added that he thought the Obama administration had not been “vigorous” enough in promoting free trade but hoped Pritzker could be a good influence.

And it was a likely ally, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who seemed to be the only one to address one factor that might prove problematic for Pritzker’s nomination — her massive wealth.

“It’s obvious you’re not here for a paycheck,” McCaskill said.

Almost the Cabinet

Latino groups may have groused about the lack of representation in the second-term Obama Cabinet, but they might find a little consolation with the nomination of Katherine Archuleta to head the Office of Personnel Management.

Janet Murgúia, president of the National Council of La Raza, applauded the selection, calling Archuleta “very well-regarded and a welcome addition to the administration.” Buuut . . .

She and others still expect to see Latinos among the president’s A-list advisers. Meaning they’re hoping for Perez’s confirmation — and the addition of a second Latino, most likely in the remaining vacant Cabinet-level slot, the head of the Small Business Administration.

Archuleta was chief of staff to Hilda Solis, Obama’s first-term labor secretary. That Cabinet also included Ken Salazar as interior secretary. Obama has only one Latino nominee pending, Tom Perez for the Labor Department job.

OPM director isn’t a Cabinet-level job, but the agency is a high-visibility one overseeing the government’s human resources functions.

“We want representation on the Cabinet and believe that Hispanics need to be represented at the highest levels of government,” Murgúia said.

If confirmed, Archuleta would replace John Berry, whose term expired last month.

Paging Gregor Samsa

Our pals at the Fix have likened the scandal surrounding the IRS to “The Simpsons” and its smart-aleck 10-year-old protagonist, Bart Simpson.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had a much higher-brow comparison to make Thursday. The Kentucky Republican said the embattled agency’s inner workings were the stuff of Franz Kafka’s novels.

Kafka, as literary buffs know, is famous for portrayals of inflexible, nightmarish bureaucracies. The word “Kafkaesque” is often used to describe something needlessly complex and labyrinthine.

And so, the Loop’s quote of the week: “This is an agency that’s basically a euphemism for mind-numbing bureaucracy — The kind of place where you’d assume nobody does much of anything without signatures and counter-signatures from section chiefs, and sub-section chiefs, and deputy office heads, and secondary assistant deputy sub-associate directors,” McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor. “Sort of like a Kafka novel without the laughs.”

Tastes like chicken

Most folks think being “up to your neck in alligators” is not a good thing. But a super PAC supporting Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) thinks it’s excellent fun, worth $5,000 a person.

Yes, it’s a “Louisiana Bayou Weekend” alligator hunt and “airboat swamp tour,” Sept. 5-7, our invitation says, “with special guest David Vitter.”

“Save your place for this exciting adventure in the swamps and bayous of south Louisiana,” and do it now, the invite says, because space is “very limited.”

GOP strategist and mega-fundraiser Charlie Spies — co-founder of the Mitt Romney super PAC Restore Our Future — set up the Fund for Louisiana’s Future in January, telling the Associated Press the goal was to support Vitter and his views.

A similar alligator-hunt fundraiser by then-Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.) in 2011 sparked an “animal-friendly alternative” online fundraising appeal by liberal Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), who told supporters they “can send me $500 and you don’t have to kill an alligator.”

Lest you think this is a weekend just riding around some swamp in a boat, Lisa Spies , also a prominent GOP fundraiser, assures us that we “will go on a real alligator hunt where all guests will receive a license . . . to hunt an alligator” and “professional alligator hunters” will be along to guide you.

Unclear if gator rasslin’ is included.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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