The Senate Commerce Committee has approved the nomination of Gina Raimondo, governor of Rhode Island, to be the next Secretary of Commerce.
The vote was 21 to 3 and was presided over by Republican Sen. Roger Wicker (Miss.), who chaired the committee in the last Congress and continues to do so as the Senate tries to hammer out a power-sharing agreement in a 50-50 Senate whose Democratic majority is only due to Vice President Kamala Harris' tie-breaking vote. Wicker said now that Groundhog Day had come and gone, he expected to pass the gavel "very, very soon." The nomination now goes to the full Senate, which is also expected to approve her nomination.
Commerce incorporates the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, which oversees government spectrum use and over the past couple of years as been in a bit of a battle with the FCC over sharing government spectrum or freeing up spectrum to close, at least for NTIA's comfort, to GPS spectrum.
Commerce is also charged, along with the FCC, with keeping an eye on the 5G tech supply to make sure that foreign tech that poses a risk to U.S. networks, like that of some Chinese telecoms, does not compromise national security.
Wicker said he was encouraged by Raimondo's commitment to work with all the members of the committee, and with her willingness to serve in "this vital position," adding "I hope she will take the necessary steps to protect our nation’s networks from outside threats." That was a reference to his concerns that Raimondo had not unequivocally committed to keeping Huawei on the entities list, restricts U.S. tech supports to companies considered potential national security risks.
Prior to becoming Rhode Island's governor, Raimondo helped found venture capital firm Point Judith Capital and before that was the state's general treasurer. Raimondo is a graduate of Harvard and has masters and doctoral degrees from Oxford, where she was a Rhodes Scholar. She also has a law degree from Yale.
Raimondo has gotten praise from some industry players for being ahead of the tech curve.
During a virtual meeting with small business leaders last month, Raimondo talked about the importance of access to broadband, something Joe Biden did as Vice President when one of his issues was giving small businesses the opportunities to scale up that broadband provides.
At her nomination hearing, Raimondo was asked about the tension between the FCC and NTIA over spectrum and whether she supported freeing up more government spectrum, She said that she wanted America to "win and lead" the race to 5G and that that included finding additional government spectrum. She said there needed to be a national spectrum strategy, a point on which she is in agreement with acting FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel, who complained about the lack of such a strategy under FCC chairman Ajit Pai (he disputed that).
"Governor Raimondo was one of the first to recognize 5G’s potential to generate new levels of economic and job growth," said CTIA president Meredith Attwell Baker after the initial announcement of Raimondo's nomination, a nomination Baker said "sends a strong signal that the Biden Administration is committed to maintaining America’s position as the world’s innovation hub.”
Jason Oxman, president of tech association ITI has said of Raimondo: "[The governor's] extensive experience as a distinguished public official, successful businesswoman, and advocate for government-industry collaboration will serve her well as the next Secretary of Commerce," adding: "Our industry looks forward to working together on pressing issues including broadband, industry standards, supply chain security, and trade to promote U.S. leadership and innovation around the world."
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