WASHINGTON — The Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to confirm Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo to serve as President Joe Biden’s commerce secretary and help guide the economy’s recovery during and after the coronavirus pandemic.
The vote was 84-15.
Raimondo, 49, was the first woman elected governor of Rhode Island and is serving her second term. She is a Rhodes Scholar and a graduate of Yale Law School who went on to become a venture capitalist before turning to politics.
Raimondo will be responsible for promoting the nation’s economic growth domestically and overseas. Republican opposition to her confirmation focused on concerns that she would not be forceful enough in confronting the Chinese government’s efforts to gain an economic and technological edge through espionage.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in particular, said he was concerned that she declined during her confirmation hearing to commit to keeping Chinese telecom giant Huawei on the department’s Entity List. U.S. companies need to get a license to sell sophisticated technology to companies on the list.
She subsequently told senators she had no reason to believe that companies on the list should not be there. But that answer failed to satisfy Cruz. He said it would have been a simple matter for Raimondo to commit to keeping Huawei and others on the Entity List.
“She refused to do so, repeatedly,” Cruz said before the vote. “This appears to be part of a pattern of a systemic decision to embrace communist China.”
Biden has said China is in for “extreme competition” from the U.S. under his administration, but that the new relationship he wants to forge need not be one of conflict.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which originated in China, has also strained the relationship between the two countries with members of both U.S. political parties working to highlight any accommodations they see the other side making toward China.
Much of Raimondo’s work will be focused on regional economic issues. Lawmakers from coastal states want help protecting valuable fishing industries. Lawmakers from rural states want greater investment in broadband. She confirmed her interest in working with them on those issues during her confirmation hearing and emphasized the need to tackle climate change. She noted as governor that she oversaw construction of the nation’s first offshore wind farm.
“We’re looking for someone who can come in and help, with private sector experience, to really move the agenda of this administration forward. So, for me, Gov. Raimondo’s private sector experience really means a lot,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. “She knows how to invest in new technologies and things that are going to help us grow jobs for the future, and she knows how to match up a workforce with those job opportunities.”
The Commerce Department comprises a dozen bureaus and agencies, including the National Weather Service, the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Raimondo would oversee the work of more than 40,000 employees.