January 26, 2021, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
Questions from Senators touched on topics including spectrum access, climate change, broadband access for unserved and underserved communities, competition with China, regulation of fisheries, and the census, as well as relief efforts for industries hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, like tourism and hospitality.
- China – Multiple Senators asked Raimondo to elaborate on her priorities in confronting the rising challenge posed by China. Raimondo stated that the United States has to combat unfair trade actions by China, including the dumping of steel and aluminum that hurts American workers. She emphasized that her priorities are to create a fair and level playing field for American workers and businesses, and to work with partners, allies, and industry stakeholders to best create this level playing field. She stated that the Biden administration plans a whole-of-government approach to competition with China and emphasized that the response wouldn’t just be defensive, through the use of tariffs, but to go on offense through investment and support of American workers and businesses, especially in cutting edge sectors like artificial intelligence and blockchain. Raimondo stated that China’s actions have been anti-competitive and have hurt American workers, and that she would be willing to use a full suite of tools, including the entities list, tariffs, or countervailing duties to increase the competitiveness of American companies, especially small businesses. She stated she would review Trump administration policies on Chinese tech companies like Huawei and ZTE and their inclusion on the Entity List but agreed those companies should not play a role in the development or implementation of 5G telecommunications systems. This response drew criticism from some Republican Senators, like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), who argued that Huawei and ZTE have not shown any reason to be removed from the Entity List. Raimondo also emphasized the need to secure American supply chains, especially of critical equipment like masks.
- Tariffs – Multiple Senators asked Raimondo whether the Biden administration would continue Trump administration tariffs on steel and aluminum tariffs. Raimondo declined to offer a specific response, instead indicating the incoming administration would be undertaking a comprehensive review of trade policies. She did sympathize with Senators on the issue, citing the impact of steel and aluminum tariffs on Rhode Island manufacturers like Electric Boat.
- Spectrum – Multiple Senators asked Raimondo to elaborate on the overlapping relationship between the FCC and the NTIA on available spectrum. Raimondo noted that the FCC regulates commercial spectrum while the NTIA regulates federal spectrum and stated that the NTIA will become more important as the race to deploy 5G intensifies. She stated her willingness to identify some publicly owned spectrum from commercial use to make spectrum available for both public and private use. Raimondo stated she was in favor for a national strategy on spectrum and cited how President Biden has been clear in calling for such a strategy.
- Broadband – Multiple Senators expressed concern with the lack of access to high-speed broadband internet access, especially in rural and tribal areas, and stated their concern about conflating underserved areas with unserved areas. Raimondo stated that access to broadband is a necessity, not a luxury. She also pointed to the critical role broadband access has played in the COVID-19 pandemic, providing access to telehealth, to school and to work, and to register for the vaccine. She committed to more effectively mapping areas of coverage to better understand what regions lack access to high-speed internet access.
- Climate – Multiple Senators stressed the importance of accounting for climate change in business and infrastructure development efforts, while Sen. Cruz and Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) raised concerns about the impact on employment caused by turning away from traditional energy sources. Raimondo stated that the transition to more renewable and green energy sources would create the opportunity for many more good-paying jobs than those that would be lost and stated that her priority is facilitating the opportunities and training so American workers can take advantage of the transition. She committed to supporting NOAA’s data collection efforts to provide up-to-date information on the impact of climate change and severe weather events and to emphasizing climate resilience in new physical and telecommunication infrastructure.
- Fisheries – Multiple Senators raised concerns over the state of American fisheries, noting that with 70% of seafood eaten at restaurants in America, there has been up to a 90% drop in profits for American fisheries due to the pandemic and export challenges. Raimondo committed to seriously addressing these issues and that she would empower the Commerce Department, through science and data, to update stock measurements and fishery quotas as well as leverage other regulatory levers to help fisherman recover.
- Support for Tourism, Hospitality, and Entertainment Industries – Multiple Senators stated their concerns about struggling industries in their home states, especially in the tourism, hospitality, and entertainment sectors, and asked Raimondo how she planned to address these hurting industries. Raimondo noted that her home state of Rhode Island’s economy is reliant on tourism, so she is particularly aware of these issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and listed several programs within the Department that are primed to help, including the Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Minority Business Development Agency. She committed to working to make Commerce’s tools and information more accessible to small businesses so they can be made aware of opportunities for growth.
- Census – Several Senators raised concerns over the accuracy of the census count, noting Trump administration policies that excluded undocumented people, and that due to COVID-19, collection operations were shortened, with Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) noting that within the Blackfeet Reservation, the self-reporting was only at 29%. Raimondo stated that it was her priority to remove politics from the Census Bureau and that she would follow the data and the advice of the statisticians within the bureau, adding that if they need more time to address any discrepancies, she would support them.
While Governor Raimondo has been in state politics over the past decade, initially serving two terms as Rhode Island’s Treasurer and two terms as Governor, she has never held federal office. Congress and stakeholders were curious how the Governor would respond to the many important broad policy issues that would be under her jurisdiction as Commerce Secretary. Raimondo’s hearing was relatively tame, with many Republican Senators offering neutral questions about bipartisan issues like access to broadband. Raimondo stressed the importance of broadband access and having accurate mapping especially during the COVID-19 pandemic where telehealth and registering for vaccines, tele-education, and telework have become so vital.
During the hearing, Raimondo had very strong comments concerning China. Raimondo was clear that the Biden administration will combat China’s anticompetitive practices and will look at the full suite of tools including tariffs to increase U.S. competitiveness and protect America’s workers. The hearing was not devoid of partisan divides. Raimondo said she would review Trump administration policies on Chinese tech companies like Huawei and ZTE feeling these companies should not play a role in the development or implementation of 5G telecommunications systems. This response drew criticism from some Republican Senators, including Sen. Cruz and Sen. Sasse, who felt they should not be removed from the entity list.
The next step in the process is a Committee vote on Raimondo’s nomination, though outgoing Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) expected her nomination to move quickly. We do not have a specific timetable for that vote; however, look for Democrats to push this and other nominations through prior to the Senate formally beginning the impeachment trial of former President Trump on February 9.