PROVIDENCE — President Joe Biden “believes in his core in bipartisanship,” US Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo told the Globe, and she is trying to help him find bipartisan support for his $1.7 trillion infrastructure plan.
Raimondo, who served as Rhode Island’s governor for six years before joining Biden’s Cabinet in March, said in the premiere episode of the Globe’s new Rhode Island Report podcast that much of the president’s infrastructure plan is “very similar to what we did here (in Rhode Island) – invest in infrastructure, invest in roads and bridges, invest in job training – you know, get the economy back on track by investing in the basics.”
Biden has lowered his initial infrastructure proposal from $2.3 trillion to $1.7 trillion, and Republicans have submitted a counterproposal of $928 billion. But the two sides remain at odds over the size and scope of the plan, and they disagree over how to pay for it, with Republicans against raising the corporate tax rate and Democrats opposed to repurposing pandemic relief funds.
“The Republicans are not necessarily warmly embracing all aspects of the president’s vision, but what he says to us is, ‘Stay at it,’” Raimondo said during the podcast.
She said that when administration officials tell Biden that reaching a bipartisan deal is difficult, he tells them to “stay at the table” and keep negotiating.
“He believes in his core in bipartisanship,” Raimondo said. “He grew up in the Senate when it worked, and he is determined for some bipartisanship.”
She said she was in the Oval Office recently with Biden and a group of Republican leaders to discuss the infrastructure plan. “And he was very honest with them,” she said. “He says, ‘I will compromise. This is my deal. Give me your deal.’ And it’s just back and forth, back and forth, stay at the table.”
Meanwhile, Raimondo’s fellow Cabinet member, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, has said a clear direction on the plan is needed by Monday, June 7, when members of Congress return from a week-long recess, and he’s emphasizing that the conversations cannot go on “forever.”
Raimondo said she has been spending most of her time pushing for legislation that would provide $52 billion to bolster semiconductor chip manufacturing in the United States. The global shortage of semiconductors has taken a toll on a variety of markets, forcing auto manufacturers to halt production and making it tough for schools to buy enough laptops for students forced to learn from home.
“That’s how I spend my day, on the phone with senators,” she said, “just trying to get the bill over the finish line.”
Raimondo said she has had the chance to work with US Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, on the semiconductor initiative, which is part of a larger bill aimed at sharpening the nation’s competitive edge against China. She said she hopes the proposed funding will lead to the creation of six or seven domestic manufacturing plants.
The legislation had been headed for approval before Memorial Day, but a small group of Republicans objected to its swift passage, including Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, who complained that the bill did not fund his priorities such as a wall at the southern border.
In February, Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, placed a hold on Raimondo’s Senate nomination vote, saying she had not adequately clarified her position on Huawei, the Chinese telecom company that the Trump administration had placed on the Commerce Department’s “entities list” because of espionage concerns.
During the interview, Raimondo said Huawei remains blacklisted.
“Actually, since I’ve been the secretary only a couple of months, we’ve added six or seven more companies to the entities list, all Chinese, and we’ve even issued some subpoenas against Chinese tech companies to require them to give us information,” she said.
China is not changing, Raimondo said.
“They are not our friend. They are anti-competitive,” she said. “So we need to be serious about it. And that’s going to be my posture, our posture.”
Raimondo also addressed more personal topics, talking about how she felt about leaving the governor’s office before the end of the pandemic, when she plans to move her family from Rhode Island to Washington, D.C., and what she’ll miss most about her hometown of Greenville, R.I.
“I had a lot of good times there,” she said. “I love Rhode Island. I’m going to miss it all.”