WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed two key members of President Biden’s economic team on Tuesday, ushering in Gina Raimondo, a former governor of Rhode Island and a former venture capitalist, as the next secretary of commerce, and Cecilia Rouse, a Princeton University economist, as chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.Dr. Rouse will become the first Black chair of the economic council in its 75-year history. She was approved by a vote of 95 to 4.Ms. Raimondo was confirmed 84 to 15. Hours later, she resigned as the governor of Rhode Island. A moderate Democrat with a background in the financial industry, Ms. Raimondo is expected to leverage her private- and public-sector experience to oversee a sprawling bureaucracy that is charged with both promoting and regulating American business.Under Ms. Raimondo, the Commerce Department is likely to play a crucial role in several of Mr. Biden’s policy efforts, including spurring the American economy, building out rural broadband and other infrastructure, and leading America’s technology competition with China. The department also carries out the census and oversees American fisheries, weather monitoring, telecommunications standards and economic data gathering, among other activities.Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington, said that she thought Ms. Raimondo’s private-sector experience would help her facilitate new investments and create jobs in the United States, and that she was “counting on Governor Raimondo to help us with our export economy.”Ms. Cantwell also said she believed Ms. Raimondo would be a departure from President Donald J. Trump’s commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross. “I think he and the president spent a lot more time shaking their fists at the world community than engaging them on policies that were really going to help markets and help us move forward with getting our products in the door,” she said.A graduate of Yale and Oxford, Ms. Raimondo was a founding employee at Village Ventures, an investment firm backed by Bain Capital. She also co-founded her own venture capital firm, Point Judith Capital, before being elected treasurer and then governor of Rhode Island.The first female governor of the state, she was known for introducing a centrist agenda that included training programs, fewer regulations and reduced taxes for businesses. She also led a restructuring of the state’s pension programs, clashing with unions in the process.Ms. Raimondo drew criticism from some Republicans in her nomination hearing in January, when she declined to commit to keeping certain restrictions in place on the exports that could be sent to the Chinese telecom firm Huawei, which many American lawmakers see as a threat to national security.Speaking on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, denounced those remarks and urged his colleagues to vote against Ms. Raimondo. “There has been a rush to embrace the worst elements of the Chinese Communist Party in the Biden administration. And that includes Governor Raimondo,” he said.Under Mr. Trump, the Commerce Department played an outsize role in trade policy, levying tariffs on imported aluminum and steel for national security reasons, investigating additional tariffs on cars and placing a variety of curbs on technology exports to China.Ms. Raimondo and other Biden administration officials have not clarified whether they will keep those restrictions, saying they will first carry out a comprehensive review of their effects.Dr. Rouse is the dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, and a former member of the council under President Barack Obama. Her academic research has focused on education, discrimination and the forces that hold some people back in the American economy. She won widespread praise from Republicans and Democrats alike in her confirmation hearing, with senators voting unanimously to send her nomination from the Banking Committee to the full Senate.She will assume her post amid an economic and public health crisis from the coronavirus pandemic, and in the waning days of congressional debate on a $1.9 trillion economic aid package that Mr. Biden has made his first major legislative priority.But in interviews and her hearing testimony, Dr. Rouse has made clear that she sees a larger set of priorities as council chair: overhauling the inner workings of the federal government to promote racial and gender equity in the economy.“As deeply distressing as this pandemic and economic fallout have been,” she said in her hearing, “it is also an opportunity to rebuild the economy better than it was before — making it work for everyone by increasing the availability of fulfilling jobs and leaving no one vulnerable to falling through the cracks.”One of her initiatives will be to audit the ways in which the government collects and reports economic data, in order to break it down by race, gender and other demographic variables to improve the government’s ability to target economic policies to help historically disadvantaged groups.“We want to design policies that will be economically effective,” Dr. Rouse said in an interview this year. Asked how she would judge effectiveness, she replied, “It’s by keeping our eye on this ball, and asking ourselves, every time we look at a policy: What are the racial and ethnic impacts?”
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