“I know the pain that losing a job can cause a family,” Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo said in her opening statement during her Senate commerce committee confirmation hearing for the role of Secretary of Commerce in the Biden administration, mentioning her family’s struggle following her father’s forced early retirement as a result of factory closures in Rhode Island in the 1980s.
Raimondo spoke about her family's experience as she prepares to lead the federal government’s main connection to the business world in the midst of a recession accompanied by massive unemployment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At its heart, the Commerce Department is about opportunity,” Raimondo said. “The opportunity to start or grow a business, the opportunity to get a good stable job, the opportunity to pursue the American dream no matter where you live.”
A former venture capitalist, during the hearing she pointed to her experience helping entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses, as well as her time as treasurer and governor of Rhode. Raimondo is the first woman to serve as governor of Rhode Island, a position she has held since 2015.
Lieutenant Gov. Dan McKee will take over the position of governor and serve out the two remaining years of Raimondo’s second term as governor if she is confirmed to lead the Commerce Department, the Herald previously reported.
Raimondo was introduced to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation by her home state Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse. Reed mentioned meeting Raimondo when she was only two months old, saying that their families had summered together “year after year,” allowing Reed to keep up with Raimondo’s accomplishments over the decades.
Reed emphasized Raimondo’s working class background and her understanding of the “centrality of education” as it relates to the economy.
“I can assure my colleagues, Democrat and Republican, that you will like working with Secretary Raimondo,” Whitehouse said, commenting on her practicality and results-oriented nature. “She likes getting stuff done,” he said.
Raimondo said the first focus of the Commerce Department should be addressing the “economic damage caused by the pandemic.” She noted that COVID-19 has worsened the “long-standing inequities facing low-income families.”
She said the second focus of the Department at her helm would be ensuring that American workers can compete globally. She stressed the importance of investing in technology and innovation in manufacturing to retain American competitiveness against countries like China.
The third priority Raimondo listed was “tackling climate change.” She said that combating climate change “goes hand in hand with creating good, paying jobs.”
Of Raimondo’s listed priorities, American competition with China in the manufacturing sector became a main focus of the hearing. Following a question from Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) about steel and aluminum manufacturing, Raimondo reiterated a firm stance on Chinese production.
“China has clearly behaved in ways that are anti-competitive, dumping cheap steel and aluminum into America, which hurts American workers and hurts the ability of our companies to compete,” Raimondo said. “Should I be confirmed, I plan to be very aggressive to help Americans compete against the unfair policies of China.”
The issue of China came up again following a question by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), who asked how Raimondo plans to deal with the country. “We cannot underestimate the threat,” Raimondo said, referring to China. “It has to require a whole of government response, and I will play my role in that.”
Two other areas that were discussed throughout the hearing were the Commerce Department’s role as it relates to climate change and the energy sector, and Raimondo’s position on the 2020 Census.
Raimondo said that the Department’s main connection to climate will be through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is housed within the Department of Commerce. “I would really look forward primarily through NOAA, to address the climate issues posed by the warming oceans, ocean debris, rising tides, fisheries and climate.”
As for the Census, which has faced recent concerns of partisan control and depressed participation, Raimondo said “we need to take the politics out of the census and we need to rely on the experts.”
Raimondo also spoke about Section 230, a piece of legislation that essentially provides immunity from liability for technology companies publishing content produced by third-party users, noting her belief that the legislation needed to be reformed.
In addition, she fielded questions regarding social media companies and content moderation policies. Social media companies “need to be held accountable to what they put on their platform,” Raimondo said. “I have seen in my own state that misinformation hurts people. We need platform accountability, but that reform would have to be balanced against the fact (that) businesses rely upon user-generated content for their innovation and have created many thousands of jobs.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) raised questions about Raimondo’s experience as governor of Rhode Island and her record creating jobs in the state, specifically citing a 2019 CNBC ranking that placed Rhode Island last in the nation in top states for business. Raimondo stood by her record, saying that she had made great strides on the economy since entering office in 2015.
Raimondo pointed to the fact that when she ran for governor, Rhode Island had the highest unemployment rate in the country, a figure that was at its lowest in the state’s history before the pandemic hit. She also mentioned that under her watch, Rhode Island posted the most jobs in its history. “My record is clear,” Raimondo said. “We have created thousands of jobs for the people of Rhode Island and I would look forward to fighting for the American worker, should I be confirmed.”
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), chairman of the committee, concluded the hearing on a positive note, saying he looks forward to working with Raimondo in the near future.
“I do not believe,” he said, “that you will be serving as governor of the State of Rhode Island for very much longer.”