Raimondo gets bipartisan Senate nod to lead Commerce

The Rhode Island governor was confirmed in a 84-15 vote

Gina Raimondo testifies virtually during her  confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing in January.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Gina Raimondo testifies virtually during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing in January. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted March 2, 2021 at 3:07pm

The Senate confirmed Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo to be the next secretary of the Commerce Department in a 84-15 vote Tuesday.

Raimondo, who leaned on her private sector experience in venture capital as well as her governorship in seeking the post, will take over a sprawling department dealing with the economic crash from the pandemic, climate change and a troubled 2020 census. She emphasized the use of science and data in helping to recover from the pandemic and deal with the changing world, although she was not able to counter concerns from some Republicans about her approach to China.

Raimondo will be “bringing in the type of leadership we need at the Department of Commerce to resolve our problems as a new digital age emerges,” Sen. Maria Cantwell, the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chair, said in a floor speech before the confirmation vote.

“We’re looking for someone who can come in and help with private sector experience to really move the agenda of this administration forward,” said Cantwell, D-Wash.

All Democrats voted in favor of her nomination, as well as most Republicans. Fifteen Republicans voted against her nomination, primarily based on the Biden administration’s approaches to climate change and China.

In a floor speech Tuesday, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said he opposed Raimondo’s nomination based on her approach to Chinese companies like telecommunications giant Huawei. Cruz called China the “greatest long-term geopolitical threat” to America and said he had placed a hold on Raimondo’s nomination over her refusal to commit to continue restricting Huawei’s access to American markets.

“We are seeing a steady and systematic embrace of Communist China, and that is dangerous. That is dangerous for our nation, it is foolhardy,” Cruz said.

That concern pervaded Republican opposition to Raimondo’s nomination, as Sens. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, John Kennedy of Louisiana and Rick Scott of Florida, all cited her positions on China to explain their opposition.

“I want someone who will hold China accountable, and I believe she will not do that,” Scott said.

Raimondo will take over from acting Secretary Wynn Coggins, who previously served as deputy assistant secretary for administration before the start of the Biden administration. Trump’s Commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, received significant criticism about his decisions running the department, including the 2020 census and weather forecasting.

In the first few weeks after taking office, Raimondo will have to handle the administration of a $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid package that passed the House last week and is about to be taken up in the Senate. The package includes billions in aid handled by the Commerce Department, including more than $3 billion by the Economic Development Administration.

She will also oversee distribution of the first set of 2020 census results, delayed because of the pandemic and decisions by the Trump administration. The agency is set to deliver apportionment results next month and redistricting data as late as September.

Last month, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee advanced her nomination on a bipartisan 21-3 vote. Questions at the confirmation hearing focused on the intricacies of running the department, with responsibilities ranging from fisheries management to international trade.

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.