Biden picks Rhode Island Gov. Raimondo as commerce secretary

FILE – In this March 1, 2020 file photo, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo faces reporters during a news conference, in Providence, R.I. President-elect Joe Biden has picked Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo to lead the Commerce Department. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President-elect Joe Biden has picked Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo to lead the Commerce Department, helping set trade policy and promote U.S. opportunities for growth domestically and overseas.

Raimondo, a former venture capitalist, is in her second term as governor and previously served as state treasurer. Her name had been floated for Biden’s health secretary, though she said last month she would be staying in Rhode Island and continuing to focus on the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden announced his choice of Raimondo late Thursday after her selection was leaked to the news media. Her forthcoming nomination will need to be approved by the Senate.

Biden also announced he had picked Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to lead the Department of Labor and California official Isabel Guzman to head the Small Business Administration.

Guzman directs California’s Office of the Small Business Advocate and has played a role in the state’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff at the Small Business Administration and a small business entrepreneur herself.

Biden praised the newest additions to his economic team, saying they will work “tirelessly” to give every American a “fair return for their work and an equal chance to get ahead.”

The Biden administration’s stance on international trade will likely be a significant shift away from President Donald Trump’s approach. The Trump administration imposed tariffs on Chinese goods including steel to punish Beijing for what it said were unfair currency practices and potential national security threats. Those moves were largely opposed by U.S. allies, including Canada.

Biden opposes Chinese tariffs and has promised to improve U.S. relationships with countries around the hemisphere and globe. But he hasn’t indicated that undoing the tariffs will be a top priority. Instead he has promised to oversee an aggressive “Buy American” campaign that would use federal funds to purchase $400 billion of U.S.-made goods while spending an additional $300 billion on new research and development from domestic technology firms.

Raimondo, 49, has degrees from Harvard and Yale Law School and was a Rhodes scholar.

She served as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood of the Southern District of New York, but ultimately went into business, becoming a venture capitalist. The firm she co-founded, Point Judith Capital, was an early-stage venture capital firm that invested in communications, internet, health care and technology companies.

Raimondo’s first run for office was in 2010, when she was elected state treasurer. While there, she led a state pension overhaul, which cut pension benefits for workers in the state pension system and drew intense opposition from public sector unions. The overhaul was so bitter and controversial that it has created divisions that persist 10 years later.

Raimondo was elected governor in 2014 with just under 41% of the vote in a three-way race. She won reelection in 2018 with more than 52%. She is term-limited and cannot run again.

Raimondo is a former head of the Democratic Governors Association and a prolific fundraiser. She became an early supporter of Mike Bloomberg’s run for president.

Biden’s administration has promised more robust promotion of U.S. exports and to encourage trade that emphasizes protecting the environment and combating climate change.

Biden’s Commerce Department may see much of its political philosophy dictated by his choice for other top economic Cabinet positions, including treasury secretary. Biden picked Janet Yellen, a former Federal Reserve chair and labor economist who, if confirmed by the Senate, would be the first woman to hold the post.

Yellen will be tasked with mapping the nation’s post-pandemic economic recovery, determining how to stimulate growth and safely reopen some parts of the economy that have been all-but shuttered for months. She has already said she plans to use her agency to help combat so-called economic inequality and combat climate change.