Commerce secretary pick pressed on pandemic, trade and climate

But Gina Raimondo faced little opposition from lawmakers during her confirmation hearing

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Posted January 26, 2021 at 2:08pm

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo sailed through her confirmation hearing Tuesday to serve as President Joe Biden’s first Commerce secretary as members on both sides focused their questions on the details of running the sprawling department.

Throughout the hearing, Raimondo emphasized the use of science and data in recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, as well as grappling with climate change and international trade issues.

Many questions she received, from Democrats and Republicans alike, focused on details of fishery management, broadband policy and trade with China.

Raimondo told lawmakers she intends to emphasize creating new jobs in growing industries as part of the administration’s plan for economic recovery.

“We need to immediately address the economic damage caused by the pandemic. COVID has touched every community — urban, suburban, rural, tribal — and exacerbated long-standing inequities facing low-income families and communities of color,” Raimondo said.

A few Republicans used the hearing to criticize Biden’s plans to increase the minimum wage, as well as claim the president has prioritized addressing climate change over economic growth.

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., pointed to a multistate climate change compact Raimondo signed as governor that could raise energy costs for low-income families, as well as the administration’s openness to raising the gas tax.

“I think all of us are very focused on climate change and how we're going to make sure that we deal with that. And at the same time we got to keep our economy going,” Scott said.

Biden’s decision to cancel the permit for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline surfaced several times in the hearing. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said he was concerned the new administration wants to prioritize some parts of the energy industry over others.

“I’m having a hard time finding anyone in the incoming Biden Cabinet who will be an advocate for a strong energy sector in America,” Sullivan said.

Raimondo argued that addressing climate change, through renewable energy and new industries, will create more jobs in the long run.

Other questions posed to Raimondo during the hearing ran the gamut from the exceptions process at the International Trade Administration to negotiations on a new data privacy shield agreement between the U.S. and European Union.

None of the issues, however, appeared to damage Raimondo’s chances of confirmation.

“I do not believe you will be serving as governor of the state of Rhode Island for very much longer, and I will look forward to working with you,” said outgoing committee chairman, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

If confirmed, Raimondo would soon have to decide how to handle the results of the 2020 census. The issue surfaced a few times in the questioning, particularly from Democrats concerned that actions by former President Donald Trump politicized the process.

"We don't need a politicization of the census. We need accurate data and information. … I hope that we will have a less political process, but one that gives us an accurate census moving forward," the incoming committee chair, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said.

The Census Bureau missed its statutory deadline to deliver apportionment results for the first time this year, and officials said it may take until March to finish. The coronavirus pandemic and decisions by the Trump administration hampered the process, prompting criticisms the administration politicized the process.

Raimondo wouldn’t commit to giving the agency a specific amount of time to finish the results.

“I believe that we need to take the politics out of the census, and we need to rely on the experts,” she said. "If they need more time, I'm open to that."