Senate confirms Gina Raimondo as Commerce secretary

Source: By Rob Hotakainen, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The Senate voted overwhelmingly this afternoon to sign off on President Biden’s nomination of Rhode Island Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo to lead the Commerce Department. Senators backed Raimondo by a margin of 84 to 15.  Raimondo is a former chair of the Governors’ Wind & Solar Energy Coalition.

“Gina Raimondo will soon become the former governor of Rhode Island,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor, adding that the Senate “will continue to confirm more nominees as quickly as possible.”

“The process can certainly move more quickly with the cooperation of our Republican colleagues,” the New York Democrat said.

Today’s final roll call on Raimondo came after the Senate last night approved a motion from Schumer to close debate (E&E Daily, March 2).

Schumer went that route after Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz placed a hold on the nomination last month. Cruz was one of three senators to oppose Raimondo when she cleared the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee by a 21-3 vote Feb. 3.

As the new Commerce secretary, Raimondo will lead a department with 43,000 employees, including 12,000 at NOAA. She will also be the top official in charge of NOAA Fisheries and will oversee the 1976 law that governs fishing in federal waters, the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act that’s likely to be reviewed by Congress this year.

At her confirmation hearing in January, Raimondo, a former venture capitalist, said she would “lead with science and data” and make both the economy and climate change top priorities for the new Biden administration.

“She’s going to inherit a big challenge,” Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the chairwoman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, told her colleagues before the vote.

Cantwell said U.S. fisheries have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, with seafood exports declining and West Coast fisheries experiencing a drop in revenue of as much as 40%.

Cantwell said she has invited Raimondo to take one of her first trips to Washington to see how the state is dealing with its fishery issues.

“I’m glad Gov. Raimondo is the governor of a coastal state, because one of the most impacted industries we’ve seen is the seafood industry,” Cantwell said.

Cruz delayed a final vote on Raimondo after she refused to promise to keep Chinese telecommunications company Huawei on a federal trade blacklist. At her confirmation hearing, Raimondo told Cruz she would review the matter once she gets the job.

In floor remarks before today’s vote, Cruz said Chinese companies masquerading as telecommunications firms are engaged in espionage against the United States, which he called “deeply troubling and dangerous.” He noted that companies placed on the federal trade blacklist are barred from acquiring American technology.

“I hope that members of both parties who have seen the threat posed by Communist China will urge the president, will urge the Cabinet, will urge this administration: Stop the embrace of Communist China, defend the interests of the United States of America,” Cruz said. “Because she was not willing to make these commitments, I will be voting against the confirmation of Gov. Raimondo.”

Raimondo, who won election as Rhode Island’s first female governor in 2014, will be replaced by Democratic Lt. Gov. Dan McKee.