Mar 16, 2022 - Technology

Tech's favorite Biden official

Photo illustration of Gina Raimondo, U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photo: Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, President Biden's most powerful appointee on tech, has largely been an ally to the sector, defending U.S. tech firms abroad and pushing for funding domestically.

Why it matters: With Big Tech critics in charge of the government's antitrust enforcement efforts, Raimondo has become the industry's key advocate within the Biden administration.

What's happening: Raimondo has taken heat from progressives after she criticized two European regulatory proposals for disproportionately targeting American tech companies.

  • Progressive advocacy group Fight Corporate Monopolies on Tuesday announced a new digital ad campaign against Raimondo aimed at voters in Nevada and New Hampshire. The ads demand she release her calendars and disclose meetings with Big Tech companies.

The other side: Raimondo deserves praise for "pushing back on flawed and discriminatory regulatory approaches coming out of Europe," Chamber of Commerce senior vice president for international regulatory affairs and antitrust Sean Heather told Axios.

  • Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told the Washington Post he'd rather see U.S. officials regulating Big Tech than "bureaucrats in Brussels," and a bipartisan group of House lawmakers backed Raimondo's approach to the European measure in a letter to Biden in February.
  • Raimondo supports the goals of the European proposal, the Digital Markets Act, and is working to coordinate U.S. and European digital regulatory approaches, a Commerce Department spokesperson told Axios.

Context: Historically, Commerce secretaries defend American companies against foreign regulations that may impact their business.

  • Raimondo founded a venture capital firm before becoming governor of Rhode Island.

The big picture: At home, Raimondo has been a key player on the Hill in advocating for funding that would boost the sector.

  • She was deeply involved in negotiations on the bipartisan infrastructure law, with her agency winning control over nearly $50 billion in funding for high-speed internet access and deployment.
  • She has also kept a steady drumbeat of pressure on lawmakers on the need to pass legislation that would dedicate $52 billion to domestic semiconductor manufacturing.
  • "She's the Cabinet voice for the American business community and she's taken that role seriously and has embraced it. And as a result, we feel like we have a very strong advocate," Al Thompson, Intel vice president of U.S. government relations, told Axios.

Of note: FTC chair Lina Khan and Department of Justice antitrust chief Jonathan Kanter are both well-known for their views that Big Tech has too much power, and longtime anti-monopoly evangelist Tim Wu is at the National Economic Council.

  • "[The Biden Administration] made tough appointments on antitrust and tech regulation, and other cabinet secretaries don't touch on these issues at all, and the Secretary of Commerce, as a booster of American business, cares about discriminatory treatment of U.S. companies," one senior tech industry official told Axios. "It can all work together."

What they're saying: Raimondo listens to businesses and has been effective in negotiations toward a new privacy agreement with Europe and conversations around artificial intelligence, Craig Albright, vice president of legislative strategy for software industry group BSA, told Axios.

  • "She is an action person," Albright said. "She is making the phone calls, she's making the case. She's very active in her advocacy. She's very inclusive in getting input from the outside. She's a star player."

Yes, but: Small and medium-sized tech companies led by Yelp took issue with her comments on the Digital Markets Act and met with Commerce staff in January to air their concerns, per a source familiar with the meeting.

  • Raimondo has also indicated she wants to take on platform accountability issues and reform of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a provision that protects websites from liability from content posted by their users.
  • She has also made clear she expects businesses to work with her on bias in AI and on the effect of technology on workers, Albright said.
  • "We're not getting a free pass," he said.
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