Biden adds Boston mayor, Rhode Island governor to economic team

Biden adds Boston mayor, Rhode Island governor to economic team

Wilmington, Del.

United States President-elect Joe Biden is set to introduce the governor of Rhode Island, the mayor of Boston, and a small-business advocate from California as the newest members of his economic team.

Mr. Biden on Thursday announced Gov. Gina Raimondo as his choice to become commerce secretary, Mayor Marty Walsh as his candidate for labor secretary, and Isabel Guzman as his pick to lead the Small Business Administration. If confirmed by U.S. Senate, the departures of Ms. Raimondo and Mr. Walsh to Washington will also shake up local politics in the New England region.

One of Mr. Biden’s top challenges after he takes office Jan. 20 will be to nurse an economy reeling from the coronavirus pandemic back to health. He said the newest members of his economic team will help achieve that “by building an economy where every American is in on the deal.”

“They share my belief that the middle class built this country and that unions built the middle class,” said Mr. Biden, who planned to introduce Ms. Raimondo, Mr. Walsh, Ms. Guzman, and a fourth candidate at an event Friday in Wilmington, Delaware.

Mr. Biden also has tapped Don Graves, one of his longtime advisers, to be the deputy commerce secretary. In addition to his economic team, Mr. Biden also announced Merrick Garland as his pick for attorney general. He has yet to name a candidate for CIA director.

With the picks, which require Senate confirmation, Mr. Biden moved a step closer to rounding out a Cabinet that he has pledged will be the most diverse in history. 

Diverse cabinet picks

Ms. Raimondo is a former venture capitalist serving her second term as governor after previously serving as state treasurer. A Democrat, she had been mentioned as a possible candidate for Mr. Biden’s health secretary, but said last month that she would stay in Rhode Island and continue to focus on the coronavirus pandemic.

As commerce secretary, Ms. Raimondo would help set the Biden administration’s trade policy and promote U.S. opportunities for growth domestically and overseas.

“Rhode Island may be small, but our economy is mighty on the strength of our small businesses and innovative technologies,” Ms. Raimondo tweeted Thursday night. She pledged that as commerce secretary “I will harness that same American ingenuity to create good-paying union jobs and build our economy back better than ever before.”

The Biden administration’s stance on international trade will likely mark a significant shift away from President Donald Trump’s heavy-on-tariffs approach. Mr. Trump slapped tariffs on Chinese steel and other goods to punish Beijing for what the administration said were unfair currency practices and potential national security threats. Those moves were largely opposed by U.S. allies, including Canada.

Mr. Biden opposes Chinese tariffs and has promised to improve U.S. relationships with countries around the hemisphere and globe. But he hasn’t indicated that undoing the tariffs will be a top priority. Instead Mr. Biden has promised to oversee an aggressive “Buy American” campaign that would use federal funds to purchase $400 billion of U.S.-made goods and spend another $300 billion on new research and development from domestic technology firms.

Mr. Walsh has been Boston’s mayor since 2014. When the Democrat took the oath of office in 2018 for his second term, Mr. Biden presided over the inauguration. Mr. Walsh was a state representative for more than a decade before becoming mayor.

He also has a long history with organized labor, formerly serving as president of Laborers Local 223 and heading the Boston Building Trades – a union umbrella organization.

The son of Irish immigrants, Mr. Walsh grew up in Boston’s working-class Dorchester neighborhood. He survived a childhood bout with cancer and has been open about his early struggles with alcohol, using his history with addiction to encourage people to get help. He opened his speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention by saying: “Good evening. My name is Marty Walsh, and I’m an alcoholic.”

Mr. Walsh on Thursday pledged as labor secretary to work as hard for working people and those trying to move into the middle class “as you do for your families and livelihoods. You have my word.”

Leaders of the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union, two major organized labor groups, backed Mr. Walsh’s selection.

To lead the Small Business Administration, Mr. Biden said he had settled on Isabel Guzman, director of California’s Office of the Small Business Advocate in the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development.

Ms. Guzman has played a role in the state’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff at the SBA, the federal agency she’s been tapped to lead, and was an adviser at the first California-chartered, Latino-formed business bank to form in Los Angeles in over 35 years.

Ramifications for New England

While the selections still require U.S. Senate confirmation, the announcement has immediate political implications for New England politics.

In Rhode Island, Democratic Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee would become acting governor and serve out the final two years of Ms. Raimondo’s term if she heads to Washington. Who would run for governor in 2022 remains an open question.

In Boston, Democratic City Council President Kim Janey would assume the role of acting mayor with Mr. Walsh’s departure, making her the first woman and first person of color to lead New England’s largest city. Ms. Janey is Black and became council president last year. Under Boston’s charter, the council is required to call a special election if there is a vacancy in the mayor’s office before March, according to the secretary of the commonwealth’s office.

Mr. Walsh’s sudden exit could also set off an election scramble.

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The last time a Boston mayor declined to seek reelection – long-serving Democrat Thomas Menino – a dozen candidates vied for the seat. Mr. Walsh, then a state lawmaker, emerged from the scrum in 2014.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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