PROVIDENCE — Newly confirmed US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said Thursday the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted significant gaps in broadband Internet access across the country, and vowed to take a “bold” approach to expand that service.
In her first television interview as commerce secretary, the former Rhode Island governor said on MSNBC that her first order of business is getting Americans back to work after a year where unemployment skyrocketed because of restrictions implemented to curb the virus.
“We need to go fast and we need to go big,” Raimondo said, referring to broadband access. She called it an equity issue.
Raimondo has already appointed her former deputy chief of staff Kevin Gallagher as a senior advisor on upskilling and broadband.
While Raimondo said she supports relaxing COVID-19 restrictions, she agreed with President Biden that some states – like Texas – might be moving too fast at a time when virus variants are still making their way through the country.
“To flip the switch, I’m not sure that’s right thing,” Raimondo said.
Raimondo was confirmed with 84 votes in the US Senate, but she was opposed by some Republicans who were particularly concerned with her positions on China. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas was critical of Raimondo for initially refusing to commit to keeping Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei on the commerce department’s “entities list,” which blacklists it from doing business in the US.
During Thursday’s interview, Raimondo said the entities list will remain a tool in the department’s tool box and she also said the tariffs imposed on China by former president Donald Trump’s administration have been effective.
Raimondo said companies like Huawei and ZTE “deserve to be targeted” based on their behavior.
“We have to be honest, which is to say that China’s behavior is anticompetitive, coercive, and their human rights abuses are horrific and they need to be held accountable for that,” Raimondo said.
Raimondo also said she wants the US to have the best-trained workforce in the world, but accomplishing that goal will require business to come to the table. She highlighted the Real Jobs Rhode Island program, which offers training and pairs workers up with potential employers.
“I’m a doer,” Raimondo said. “That’s what people should know about me. And I’m excited to do for the American people.”