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The US Commerce Secretary Who Is Worth $700 Million Said He Doesn't Understand Why Furloughed Workers Are Going To Food Banks

"There's no real reason why they shouldn't be able to get a loan," Wilbur Ross said.

Posted on January 24, 2019, at 6:22 p.m. ET

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose net worth was last estimated at $700 million, is under fire for recent comments about not understanding why furloughed federal workers would need help from food banks when they can get a loan instead.

Ross was asked about reports that federal workers were seeking food assistance during a CNBC interview Thursday morning.

"I know they are, and I don’t really quite understand why," he said. "Because as I mentioned before, the obligations that they would undertake, say borrowing from a bank or a credit union, are, in effect, federally guaranteed. So the 30 days of pay that some people will be out, there's no real reason why they shouldn't be able to get a loan against it and we've seen a number of ads from financial institutions doing that."

The commerce secretary's comments were seen as particularly tone-deaf because of his vast personal fortune. Although Forbes lists his net worth as $700 million based on financial disclosure forms he filed during his cabinet member nomination process, Ross has insisted he is actually worth $3.7 billion.

Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer tweeted the video clip, calling it "unreal."

Wilbur Ross is @realDonaldTrump’s Secretary of Commerce. Wilbur Ross is a billionaire. And this is billionaire Wilbur Ross saying he doesn’t understand why federal workers not getting paid during the #TrumpShutdown don’t just take out loans *to feed their families*. Unreal.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also responded to Ross's statements during a press conference Thursday.

"I don't know if it's a 'let them eat cake' kind of attitude, or 'call your father for money,'" she said. "I don't quite understand why, as hundreds of thousands of men and women are about to miss a second paycheck tomorrow."

Although the president criticized Pelosi's remarks in a tweet immediately following the press conference, he later told reporters that perhaps Ross "should have said it differently."

"Local people know who they are, and where they go for groceries and everything else, and I think what Wilbur’s probably trying to say is that they will work along," Trump said. "And that’s what happens in times like this, they know the people, they’ve been dealing with them for years, and they work along — the grocery store — and I think that’s probably what Wilbur meant."

This isn't the first time members of the Trump administration or those adjacent to the president have made seemingly dismissive comments about the ongoing government shutdown crisis.

In a PBS Newshour interview on Jan. 10, White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett implied that — despite not being paid — furloughed federal workers were happy about the shutdown because they had time off and didn't have to use vacation days.

"A huge share of government workers were going to take vacation days, say, between Christmas and New Year's. And then we have a shutdown, and so they can't go to work, and so then they have the vacation, but they don't have to use their vacation days," he said. "And then they come back, and then they get their back pay. Then they're — in some sense, they're better off."

White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett on furloughed workers: “They can't go to work and so then they have the vacation, but they don't have to use their vacation days. And then they come back, and then they get their back pay. Then they're—in some sense they're better off."

The president's daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, urged federal workers to "stay strong" in an interview Monday, and that the country's future generations would thank them for their sacrifice to fix America's "immigration problem."

“It’s not fair to you, and we all get that, but this is so much bigger than any one person," she said. "It is a little bit of pain, but it’s going to be for the future of our country, and their children and their grandchildren, and generations after them will thank them for their sacrifice right now. I know it’s hard. I know people have families, they have bills to pay, they have mortgages, they have rents that are due. But the president is trying every single day to come up with a good solution here, and the reality is, it’s been something that’s gone on for too long and been unaddressed — our immigration problem."

In a tweet Wednesday, Lara Trump responded to the backlash by attacking the media for "overreact[ing] without research" and not watching her full interview.

"They're completely misrepresenting my words and my support for furloughed workers," she said. "My heart goes out to all the federal workers affected by the shutdown, and we're fighting every day to end this impasse."

Nevertheless, Ross and the administration were dragged on Twitter — the commerce secretary's name was one of the platform's trending topics in the United States on Thursday.

Lara Trump: I’m going to have the most out of touch take regarding federal workers this week Wilbur Ross: Hold my Dom Pérignon

Fixed it: Wilbur Ross dubbed over Mr. Burns

i hope hungry people eat wilbur ross

reporter: what do u say to the people struggling? wilbur ross: have they tried calling the lizard? reporter: stephen miller? wilbur ross: no, the one that saves 15% on car insurance

Later that day... Wilbur Ross to his footman: No, seriously, why can't they eat cake? Cake is delicious.


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