Lobster, cruises and scotch: a cabinet secretary’s pressure to sell Biden’s agenda

But in an interview in his office a few blocks down the road from the White House, the former Rhode Island governor outlined a typical old-school — and bipartisan — relationship-building process that saw him as White House officials. A key asset that lies ahead in the effort to lay the groundwork for the high-wire legislative process.

It’s a process, at least up to this point, that’s very little about curved arms, and a lot about Maine lobsters. Or the Alaska cruise industry. Or broadband access in rural Mississippi.

Raimondo said, “MLAs deserve respect. They should be listened to. They go back to their districts every week, and they have to give an account by their constituents.” “And I really respect that.”

The approach is one that echoes the point of view of his boss, the 36-year veteran of the Senate.

Biden clarified during the roller-coaster talks that a bipartisan infrastructure package, that he saw an agreement with Republicans as not only important to his broader legislative agenda but an important signal to the nation and the world – that the US government could indeed produce an outcome.

Biden’s approach drew criticism from some congressional Democrats, who were wary of wasting valuable time chasing a deal that may never come to fruition or achieve one that would lag key Democratic priorities. .

Up until this point, however, with the bipartisan framework in hand, things have always remained on the weak track Biden has set out.

Raimondo plans to play his part to keep it that way.

Outreach to Prominent Senators

To be clear, Raimondo oversees a vast portfolio at the Department of Commerce that has no shortage of domestic and international issues to manage.

But she has become a key administrative liaison for Sen. Susan Collins, the moderate Maine Republican — a member of the bipartisan group that put together the infrastructure deal and a crucial vote that has raised various points regarding the attitudes of senior advisers to Biden expressed concern.

Collins and Raimondo forged a relationship over an important issue for their state: the lobster industry. Collins asked Raimondo to dig into the issue before the new rules were put in place. Raimondo did just that – and the two kept in touch.

“I have always admired him and his willingness to go against his party,” Raimondo said of his fellow New Englander.

When Republican senators from Alaska acted urgently to address the potentially devastating economic fallout associated with COVID and cruise industry regulations, Raimondo had his own team Emphasize the important role played by industry for state and local communities. This helped push legislation led by a delegation from Alaska to resolve the issue in a matter of weeks.

“I did it because it’s the right thing to do for the people of Alaska,” Raimondo said.

“I plan on squeezing them as much as possible to vote for a bipartisan package,” he said, referring to sans Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan. “Because it’s also the right thing to do.”

He traveled to Mississippi with Sen. roger wicker, the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, to talk rural broadband — and pressure him to support the bipartisan plan.

his reaction? “Well, you know, it’s a process,” Raimondo said with a smile.

The efforts are not limited to Republicans. Raimondo will be on his way to Washington state for an event with Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell. She has been to Massachusetts for an event with a prominent progressive voice, Sen. Ed Markey.

And then there was dinner on the West Virginia Democrat’s houseboat with her husband and Sen. Joe Manchin (asked how the nearly five-hour experience went, Raimondo replied: “A great deal of Scotch”).

For Raimondo, it’s an effort she says comes from her time as governor, noting that it’s impossible to do anything in that role without productive relationships with legislators.

Even before the latest agenda push, he had a significant supporting role in the legislative campaign to secure $52 billion Promotion of domestic semiconductor manufacturing — A significant effort given the wide Chip shortage that has plagued industries For months and in commerce served as an immediate economic and national security priority for Raimondo and his team.
Then-Rhode Island Gov.  Gina Raimondo, at left, remarks after then-president-elect Joe Biden was announced as his commerce secretary of state candidate in Wilmington, Delaware, in January.

Raimondo is still engaged on the legislation, which has bipartisan support, but differences remain between the House and Senate versions. He said he was confident the issue would be resolved given the urgency of it – and spoke to Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the issue the other day.

“I think people realize this is an urgent bill,” she said.

But Biden specifically deputed his cabinet secretaries as he rolled out his signature recovery package — the $2.3 trillion American Jobs Act and the $1.8 trillion American Family Plan — to bolster his team’s efforts to sell proposals. did.

Divided into two councils – named the Jobs cabinet and the family cabinet – Biden’s cabinet has served as a message multiplier through dozens of events and media appearances across the country.

Heads of department have regular calls and specific tasks by the White House, primarily related to policy initiatives in Biden’s dual proposals that are tailored to their respective teams and agencies’ areas of expertise.

For Raimondo, officially a member of the Jobs Council, this means broadband. The bipartisan agreement reached last month includes $65 billion to expand high-speed broadband access to unserved areas.

But that Connecticut’s Pelosi and Democratic Rep. Rosa has been on the phone with DeLauro over the $400 billion that Biden proposed for home-based care for elderly people and people with disabilities, an issue she worked on as governor. She talks to CEOs the same way she talks to them almost daily.

Connections to Top Biden Allies

Behind the scenes work with MPs has become part of his portfolio. She is not a member of Biden’s key negotiating team or legislative team, but she has become a resource beyond her department’s technical policy expertise.

It’s an element that has given him a level of currency in his own right, Biden’s tight-lipped senior team.

She calls Biden’s powerful chief of staff Ron Klein “super accessible.” Steve Richetti, one of the president’s closest advisers and key negotiators, “calls you back in a minute and he’s really in the middle of all these relationships.” Anita Dunn, Biden’s senior advisor, “is there whenever you need her.” Raimondo works most closely with Brian Deez, the director of the National Economic Council, given the overlap of their portfolios.

“I think we’re working as a team,” Raimondo says.

She makes clear that it is Biden’s clear directive that has propelled his outreach efforts to Republicans – one he has not hesitated to repeat in conversations with cabinet secretaries and senior staff over the past few months.

Biden’s push behind the scenes, according to Raimondo, ranged from “try harder, talk more” to “Who should I call? How can we do it?”

The latter question is probably what drives Democrats on either side of Pennsylvania Avenue these days. The bipartisan agreement was an important step Considering the two-track process that Biden and Democratic leaders The sketch is out on Capitol Hill.

But there’s more work to be done to actually draft that agreement, move it through each chamber and, of course, get the vote to pass it. The second piece—a Democrat admitting he won’t get the Republican vote and hoping it will be made up of central priorities for progressives—also needs to proceed on a relatively similar timeline.

In other words, it remains a high-wire act with no shortage of potential losses in the coming weeks, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

As Raimondo succinctly described what could be seen as his unofficial mandate: “Find bridges. Remove obstacles. We have to deliver.”


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