Biden to pick Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo for Commerce

One of her first decisions would be handling results of last year’s troubled decennial census

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo speaks to a women's summit in Washington in October 2015.  (Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Fortune/Time Inc. file photo)
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo speaks to a women's summit in Washington in October 2015. (Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Fortune/Time Inc. file photo)
Posted January 7, 2021 at 5:28pm

President-elect Joe Biden will nominate Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo to serve as his Commerce secretary, his transition team announced Thursday.

Raimondo, if confirmed, would oversee the end of a historically challenged decennial census as well as economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

In the same announcement, Biden named his picks to head the Labor Department, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, and the Small Business Administration, Isabel Guzman, the director of California’s Office of the Small Business Advocate.

“This team will help us emerge from the most inequitable economic and jobs crisis in modern history by building an economy where every American is in on the deal. They share my belief that the middle class built this country and that unions built the middle class,” Biden said.

Raimondo would be joined by Biden nominee for Deputy Commerce secretary, Don Graves, a former Biden staffer who currently serves as an executive at KeyBank.

One of Raimondo’s first decisions on the job would regard how to handle the results of last year’s decennial census. The coronavirus pandemic as well as decisions by the Trump administration hampered efforts to count everyone in the country, resulting in a shortened census schedule and a blown end-of-year statutory deadline for delivering apportionment results.

As the Census Bureau, which the Commerce Department oversees, trudges through errors in hundreds of thousands of records, it anticipates being ready to deliver apportionment results shortly after Biden takes office on Jan. 20.

[Census Bureau on inaugural clock after missing deadline]

Census officials previously asked for a 120-day extension to deliver apportionment results. However, the Trump administration abandoned that push amid an effort to exclude undocumented immigrants from the apportionment process, an effort Biden has criticized.

Raimondo would also be responsible for making decisions about how to handle undocumented immigrants included in census results as well as President Donald Trump’s effort to have the Census Bureau produce detailed information about the population of voting-age citizens in the United States.

Raimondo would take over from current Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who has served throughout the entirety of Trump’s term. Ross frequently clashed with Congress over the administration of the decennial census, including in his failed effort to add a citizenship question to the questionnaire.

A former venture capitalist, Raimondo became the first female governor of Rhode Island with her election in 2014, and she won reelection in 2018. State law limits the governor to two consecutive terms.

Prior to her gubernatorial run, Raimondo was the second woman to serve as the state’s general treasurer, a position she held from 2011 to 2015. She also served as chair of the Democratic Governors Association in 2019.

Raimondo’s departure from Rhode Island would leave an opening for a potential gubernatorial run by one of the state’s two representatives in the U.S. House, Democrats David Cicilline and Jim Langevin. Census Bureau projections indicate the state could lose one of its congressional seats.

[Northeast, Midwest would lose seats in new Census Bureau estimate]

With a 50-50 split in the Senate, Biden cannot afford to lose many votes from his caucus in confirming his Cabinet picks.

The progressive organization Demand Progress called Raimondo the wrong pick for the job, saying in a press release Thursday that “Raimondo has a long history of prioritizing the needs of Wall Street above those of working Rhode Islanders.” Demand Progress and other groups criticized cuts she proposed to the state’s aid for low-income residents, as well as hikes in the health insurance rate.