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Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo Is Biden's Commerce Secretary Pick

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo was named Thursday as President-elect Joe Biden's intended nominee for secretary of the U.S. Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau.
Jonathan Wiggs
Boston Globe via Getty Images
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo was named Thursday as President-elect Joe Biden's intended nominee for secretary of the U.S. Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau.

Updated Friday at 7:40 p.m. ET

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, the first woman to lead the country's smallest state, has been named President-elect Joe Biden's intended nominee for commerce secretary.

If confirmed by the Senate, Raimondo, a Democrat who is serving her second term as governor and was previously the state's treasurer, would oversee the U.S. Commerce Department's eclectic portfolio of federal agencies, including some that have been thrown into political hot waters during the Trump administration — most notably the Census Bureau.

The federal government's largest statistical agency has been scrambling to prepare the release of the first set of 2020 census results, which was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic and last-minute schedule changes by Trump administration officials.

The state population counts that determine each state's share of congressional seats and Electoral College votes for the next decade are not expected to be out until February at the earliest, the Trump administration said this week. Depending on the timing of that release and Raimondo's potential confirmation by the Senate, she could play a key role in the handoff of those numbers, which are ultimately certified by the clerk of the House of Representatives.

As commerce secretary, Raimondo would take over the position from Wilbur Ross, a Trump appointee who has been found in contempt of Congress by the House for defying a subpoena to turn over documents about the Trump administration's efforts to add a citizenship question to census forms.

Raimondo denounced the administration's push for the now-blocked question as "reckless" shortly after it was announced in 2018.

"This policy is wrongheaded [and] will lead to an inaccurate count, which will ultimately hurt Rhode Islanders in the form of less federal aid, as well as potentially less representation in Washington," Raimondo said during a press conference in Central Falls, R.I.

But speaking on Friday for the first time since Biden named her as his pick for commerce secretary, Raimondo didn't make a single reference to the national head count or the Census Bureau, which makes up the bulk of the Commerce Department's annual budget, along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"The mission of the Commerce Department is a very simple one — to help spur good-paying jobs, to empower entrepreneurs to innovate and grow, to come together with working families and American businesses to create new opportunities for all of us," Raimondo said at The Queen, a theater in Wilmington, Del., during a speech that did not include any mentions of the department's bread and butter — survey data and weather forecasts.

Don Graves, Biden's intended nominee for deputy commerce secretary and a longtime adviser to the president-elect, also did not talk about the census at Friday's event where he and Raimondo were introduced by Biden.

The governor's press secretary, Audrey Lucas, referred a request for comment to the Biden transition team, which did not immediately respond to NPR's inquiry.

Still, both of Rhode Island's senators have voiced their support for Raimondo.

"Commerce Department employees are getting a terrific new boss who will listen to them, support them, lead from the trenches, and get the very best out of them by holding them to the same high standards she holds herself," said Democratic Sen. Jack Reed, who is a member of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that funds the Census Bureau and who was once Raimondo's summer house neighbor, in a statement. "And Congress will be getting a partner who is an honest broker of unquestioned integrity."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) is a national correspondent for NPR reporting on the people, power and money behind the U.S. census.