The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo’s nomination to serve as Commerce secretary, advancing the candidate Wednesday to the full Senate on a bipartisan 21-3 vote.
Raimondo has said she intends to create economic recovery after the pandemic through building a new “green/blue economy,” creating jobs in new industries with an emphasis on fighting climate change. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the top Democrat on the panel, argued that Raimondo’s background as a venture capitalist before getting into politics would help her fulfill the role.
“We're blessed with Gov. Raimondo being both in the public sector and the private sector, and I think that will give her a great deal of insights to the many challenges facing our economy, the competitiveness of businesses, the challenges of the information age,” Cantwell said.
Most of Raimondo’s confirmation hearing last month before the panel focused on the intricacies of running the sprawling Commerce Department, with questions running the gamut from fisheries management to Chinese imports.
Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the panel's top Republican, and other members had pushed Raimondo to stand up to alleged Chinese market manipulation and concerns about national security. On Wednesday, Wicker said he would have liked to see Raimondo take a tougher stance on Chinese telecommunications company Huawei.
“I do remain concerned about the governor's reluctance to state unequivocally that she intends to keep Huawei on the department's entity list. Keeping Huawei on this list is important for the security of our networks, and I urge the governor and the administration to make its position clear,” Wicker said.
Republicans also have argued that the Biden administration’s actions, such as canceling the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, have hurt existing energy jobs amid the pandemic. Biden nominees aim to put their thumb on the scale in the energy industry, they argue, disfavoring coal, oil and natural gas production.
Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Rick Scott, R-Fla., voted against Raimondo’s confirmation. Cruz and Scott singled out the administration’s energy policy during the hearing last month. Scott separately 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 at that hearing.
The committee initially scheduled a reorganization for Wednesday's meeting that would hand Cantwell the gavel. However, the Senate leadership had not reached a broader power-sharing agreement in the 50-50 chamber before the meeting started and the panel pulled the resolution.