Biden’s Commerce Secretary Is A Former Venture Capitalist, But Some GOPers Warn She’ll Be ‘Soft On China’

Gina Raimondo has won Senate confirmation to be President Joe Biden’s commerce secretary by an 84 to 15 vote. She resigned from her most recent position as governor of Rhode Island on Tuesday evening.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Daniel J. McKee was sworn in as governor shortly after Raimondo stepped down. He will serve the remaining 22 months of Raimondo’s gubernatorial term.

Raimondo, a 49-year-old Democrat, is a former Rhodes Scholar. She graduated from Harvard, went on to Yale to earn a law degree, then co-founded Point Judith Capital, a venture capital firm. Her political career began when a regional director at Emily’s List recruited Raimondo and other Democratic, pro-choice women to consider running for state and local offices throughout Rhode Island.

She was elected state treasurer in 2010, won the governorship four years later, and was re-elected to a second term in 2018.

“Rhode Island may be small, but our economy is mighty on the strength of our small businesses and innovative technologies,” Raimondo tweeted after being nominated earlier this year. “As Secretary of Commerce, I will harness that same American ingenuity to create good-paying union jobs and build our economy back better than ever before.”

According to the Boston Globe, “Raimondo drew national attention for the 2011 state pension overhaul that she championed as state treasurer,” and:

As governor, she revamped Rhode Island’s economic development office, and convinced lawmakers to approve multiple programs that allowed the state to offer millions of dollars in tax incentives to companies willing to relocate to Rhode Island. The office is now called Commerce Rhode Island.

Raimondo has acknowledged that she doesn’t enjoy handing out tax breaks to businesses, but she has also said the results suggest the incentives work. For much of her first campaign for governor, the state’s unemployment rate was above 8 percent. By the end of her first term, it was 3.7 percent. The jobless rate fell as low as 3.4 percent in February 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic sent it soaring as high as 18.1 percent.

Raimondo has always dazzled big donors from Wall Street and Silicon Valley for her unapologetic focus on the economy, but liberals in Rhode Island have said that approach has overshadowed working-class families.

Biden reportedly interviewed Raimondo to be his running mate and considered her for other Cabinet-level posts, including Secretary of Health and Human Services and head of the Transportation Department. According to the New York Times, labor unions displeased with Raimondo’s record on pension reform helped block her from the HHS position.

She takes over a Department of Commerce tasked with promoting job creation and economic growth, ensuring fair trade, negotiating bilateral trade agreements, runs the National Weather Service program, and manages ocean and coastal navigation.

“Some of the brightest minds in the federal government – indeed some of the best scientists in America – are at the Commerce Department, and they deserve leadership that’s supportive, transparent, and driven toward a common mission – building a stronger, more equitable, and more resilient American economy,” Raimondo said at her confirmation hearing.

“COVID has shined a light on the inequities in our economy,” she added. “The president has been very clear, we’re going to build back better and more equitably, and I strongly support that.”

The department oversees more than 46,000 employees in various bureaus and agencies, including the U.S. Census Bureau.

Raimondo said if confirmed, she would work to “take the politics out of the census” after the Trump administration attempted to exclude unlawfully present immigrants from 2020 state population counts. The results, which have not yet been released, are used to reapportion congressional seats among the states.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), a congressional watchdog agency, classified the 2020 census as a high-risk project. According to the Associated Press, “the GAO has classified the 2020 census as a high-risk area since 2017.”

Raimondo has said, “the climate crisis poses an existential threat to our economic security,” adding, “We must meet this challenge by creating millions of good, union jobs that power a more sustainable economy.”

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, had placed the Senate’s vote on hold last month. He accused Raimondo of having “ethics issues” and a “soft stance on China.” Cruz specifically called Raimondo out for “her refusal to commit” to keeping Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies on a U.S. trade blacklist known as the Entity List.

Raimondo acknowledged that “telecommunications equipment made by untrusted vendors is a threat to the security of the U.S. and our allies.”

“China’s actions have been anti-competitive, hurtful to American workers and businesses, coercive, and as you point out, they’re culpable for atrocious human rights abuses,” Raimondo said while being questioned by Cruz earlier this year. “So whether it’s the entities list, or tariffs, or countervailing duties, I intend to use all those tools to the fullest extent possible to level the playing field for the American worker.”

Still, on Tuesday morning Sen. Cruz tweeted: “Heading to the Senate floor to deliver remarks on Team Biden’s troubling rush to embrace the Chinese Communist Party and his Commerce Secretary nominee Gina Raimondo.”

Sen. Cruz reiterated those thoughts on the floor, speaking of “a rush to embrace the worst elements of the Chinese Communist Party in the Biden administration,” adding, “that includes (Commerce Nominee) Governor Raimondo.”

Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida also opposed Raimondo’s nomination, tweeting that the Department of Commerce “shouldn’t be led by someone who supports doing more business w/Communist China, which steals U.S. technology & jobs & wants to destroy our economy.”

Fifteen Republican Senators opposed Raimondo’s confirmation, including Josh Hawley of Missouri, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and John Barrasso of Wyoming. 34 Republicans joined all of the Democrats and voted yes.

U.S. Senator Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island, reportedly used to babysit Raimondo, as their families also vacationed together.

“I congratulate Secretary Raimondo,” Reed said in a statement on Tuesday. “She will lead with integrity and play a critical role overseeing a wide array of key initiatives essential to our nation’s future, from helping U.S. manufacturers compete to investing in economic development to managing our ocean resources. She’ll build successful partnerships, bring people together, and help spur smart, sustainable economic growth.”

Both Reed and Raimondo attended the prestigious LaSalle Academy, a private Catholic college prep school in Providence.

Raimondo announced her resignation from the highest governing body of Yale University, her alma mater, in January.

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