Trump mulls firing his commerce secretary after defeat on census citizenship question: report

If Ross were to exit the administration, he would become the 14th Cabinet official to do so, following Alex Acosta

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published July 15, 2019 2:06PM (EDT)

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross; President Donald Trump (Getty/AP/Salon)
U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross; President Donald Trump (Getty/AP/Salon)

A new report reveals that President Donald Trump is souring on one of his Cabinet members, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and may replace him after the former banker failed to get a citizenship question added to the 2020 U.S. Census.

The president has told aides and friends that he is mulling dumping Ross after the Supreme Court refused to allow his administration to add the question, according to NBC News. One factor potentially dissuading him from doing so is the recent resignation of Alex Acosta, Trump's former labor secretary and only Hispanic Cabinet member, who resigned amid a public outcry over his controversial role in cutting a light plea deal for the billionaire financier and registered sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein.

Trump and Ross have been friends since the '90s, when Ross represented some of Trump's creditors as the future president's Atlantic City casino hotels filed for multiple bankruptcies. Trump was reportedly very impressed with Ross' business acumen, with Ross in turn endorsing Trump's presidential bid despite being a registered Democrat. "We need a more radical, new approach to government," Ross said of Trump.

Ross previously had a reputation for being able to turn around failing companies and for specializing in leveraged buyouts and distressed businesses. He even was viewed as being a billionaire, although financial disclosure forms later revealed that he owned less than $700 million in assets.

If Ross were to exit the administration, he would become the 14th Cabinet official to do so, following Acosta.  "Some White House officials expect Ross to be the next Cabinet secretary to depart, possibly as soon as this summer, according to advisers and officials," NBC reported.

And, as my colleague Sophia Tesfaye wrote, "There seems to be no end to the exodus in sight. Energy Secretary Rick Perry reportedly has plans to leave. The president has also reportedly told confidants he is eager to remove Dan Coats as his director of national intelligence."

This is not the first time that Trump has expressed a dim view of Ross' tenure as commerce secretary. Last year, the president reportedly said he viewed Ross as "past his prime" and that he was "no longer a killer" due to his struggles in negotiating better trade deals with China. Although Ross was one of the few members of Trump's Cabinet who had long shared his skepticism toward free trade agreements, the commerce secretary appeared unable to extract major concessions from China, even as Robert Lighthizer, Trump's choice for U.S. trade representative, was able to do so.

Despite the doubts about Ross' future at the Trump White House, Commerce Department press secretary Kevin Manning told NBC News that "currently, the secretary is overseeing the Department's response to Hurricane Barry, including NOAA’s extremely accurate track and intensity forecast. On Friday, the secretary joined the president on his visit to Wisconsin and Ohio and will continue to work on behalf of the American people and the president's 'America First' agenda. He has shepherded the Department of Commerce into a new era, where, under the president's leadership and direction, we have better supported American businesses from unfair trading practices and have reinforced our national and economic security at long last."

When recently ask if he was disappointed with Ross the president told reporters, "No, he didn't let me down."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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