Happy Saturday! Here’s another edition of my weekend column for WPRI.com — as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to email@example.com and follow me on Twitter and on Facebook.
1. Two years after Joe Biden tapped Gina Raimondo to be the nation’s 40th commerce secretary, Rhode Island’s former governor has firmly established herself as a Washington power player. She appears on the Sunday morning shows, makes the short lists for other big jobs, and even cooks peace-brokering meals for Joe Manchin and Ron Klain. Capitol Hill’s bipartisan confidence in Raimondo was crucial in securing passage of the CHIPS Act, which empowers her to allocate over $52 billion — more than triple her department’s usual annual budget — to bolster the nation’s semiconductor industry. (Not everyone on the Hill is happy with her: Elizabeth Warren has repeatedly targeted the commerce secretary for criticism.) Raimondo appeared comfortably settled in last month when I visited her imposing Washington office, located in the Art Deco Hoover Building near the White House. “It’s a huge job,” she told me, ticking off a travel itinerary that has ranged from Cleveland to Tokyo. But “fundamentally, no matter where I am in the world and what I am doing, it’s about creating jobs and opportunities for Americans.” Still, while Raimondo has clearly mastered the wheeling-and-dealing aspect of Washington life, her biggest challenge lies ahead as she oversees implementation of CHIPS. If the effort is viewed as a success, it will give Biden more reason to make her his next treasury secretary; if the money is used unwisely, she’ll get the blame.
2. The commerce secretary probably isn’t the first Washington official you associate with issues of war and peace, but it turns out Gina Raimondo is among those playing a role in Washington’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The reason: her responsibilities include export controls, a tool the administration has been using to try and stop weapons components from reaching Vladimir Putin. At one meeting Raimondo attended, Ukrainian officials brought actual shrapnel from the battlefield to show the American leaders which spare parts were being repurposed by the Russians. “They said, ‘Don’t let them get these spare parts. Because if they get these spare parts, they can fix this stuff,'” she recalled.
3. My full interview with Secretary Raimondo airs on this weekend’s edition of Newsmakers. As we reported Thursday night, she took the opportunity to rule out ever running for U.S. Senate — but kept the door open to a bid for president. As for her biggest regret from her tenure as governor, she cited the state of the Providence schools, saying she believes “without question” that no policy challenge is more important to the future of Rhode Island as a whole.
4. One of the week’s stranger stories has been the apparent Chinese spy balloon, spotted floating over Montana on Thursday. The diplomatic breach over the matter is serious enough that Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a planned visit to China to express American displeasure. Being chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Jack Reed is quite familiar with espionage efforts foreign and domestic. “I don’t think it came over on its own will,” Reed told reporters Friday after an event in East Providence, chuckling at Chinese efforts to characterize their purpose as meteorological. “It was launched and it was directed to enter both the United States and Canadian airspace.” Still, Reed said he agreed with Biden’s decision not to shoot down the balloon for multiple reasons. “One is that the satellite coverage of the Chinese already is probably far better than anything they could get from a ‘weather balloon’ floating around,” he said. “Second, the debris from a shoot-down could harm Americans, and that was an important consideration. And third, we immediately went into the steps of essentially limiting operations and sort of hiding anything we think is valuable from observation — we do that routinely when satellites pass by.” The cancellation of Blinken’s trip, he added, “will send a very, very important signal to the Chinese.”
5. Eye on Congress … Sheldon Whitehouse, in his new capacity as Budget Committee chairman, joined Chuck Schumer and other top Democrats for a news conference staking out their position on the debt ceiling … David Cicilline went viral for turning House Republicans’ efforts to require the Pledge of Allegiance into an attack on GOP election deniers … Seth Magaziner witnessed another bout of House partisan brawling in his first Natural Resources Committee hearing, as Democrats pressed to reinstate a ban on firearms in hearing rooms … Jake Auchincloss won appointment to the high-profile House select committee examining U.S.-China relations … Magaziner, Auchincloss and Bill Keating all voted in favor of a GOP resolution condemning socialism, while Cicilline joined a small group of Democrats who voted “present” rather than yea or nay.
6. President Biden delivers his State of the Union address on Tuesday, which means it’s time for local lawmakers to announce their guests for the big night. Jack Reed is bringing Lucy Rios, executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, in part because of Biden’s role in passing the Violence Against Women Act. Sheldon Whitehouse has invited Woonsocket veteran Vance Scullin, who served in Iraq during the Gulf War and is newly eligible for service-related benefits due to last year’s PACT Act. David Cicilline is bringing Andrew Cortés, founder and executive director of Building Futures, the pre-apprenticeship program in Providence launched when Cicilline was mayor. (Cortés was also Reed’s “virtual guest” for last year’s speech.) Seth Magaziner isn’t revealing his guest yet, though his office says he’s excited to share his pick next week. And over in Massachusetts, Jake Auchincloss is bringing Dr. Xiaoyan Qin, an independent pharmacist from his hometown of Newton; he’s working on bipartisan legislation that would target pharmacy-benefit managers like CVS Health. As for Bill Keating, his office didn’t respond to a query Friday.
7. Speaker Shekarchi kept most of his leadership team the same when he announced his appointments this week, but he made one widely expected change: stripping 16-term Cranston Rep. Charlene Lima of her title as deputy speaker and bestowing it instead on Providence Rep. Ray Hull. Shekarchi suggested he and Hull were more simpatico, describing the new deputy speaker as “very reflective of my leadership style — we are both collaborative, consensus-building and moderate Democrats.” Lima has held the position since the days when fellow Cranston Democrat Nick Mattiello led the House, but she’s always had an independent streak and has been speaking out about her demotion on Twitter. “Today the Speaker used the power of his office to continue my punishment for being ‘too independent,'” she announced Friday. Shekarchi’s office countered that the parking space in question is for the deputy speaker, an assertion Lima contested. One of Lima’s problems: many Democratic colleagues felt she went too far last year when she bought a newspaper ad soliciting candidates to run against fellow Cranston Democrat Brandon Potter, a progressive newcomer well-liked by Shekarchi.
8. Two state lawmakers got national attention this week: “Good Morning America” profiled Pawtucket Reps. Leonela Felix and Cherie Cruz as examples of legislators who are using their personal experiences of being arrested to inform policymaking on criminal justice. Felix is also co-chair of the newly renamed Rhode Island Black, Latino, Indigenous, Asian-American and Pacific Islander Caucus, formerly the Legislative Black and Latino Caucus. Felix and her co-chair, Sen. Jonathon Acosta, attributed the name change to the “evolving values and mission” of the caucus in the new session.
9. Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos will be in Washington next week as one of five honorees at New York Congressman Adriano Espaillat’s 5th annual Dominicans on the Hill event, which he holds each year during Dominican Heritage Month. Other honorees will be Dr. Anthony Fauci, Sgt. Aquino Gonnell, former Congressman José Serrano, and Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal.
10. Here’s a dispatch from my Target 12 colleague Eli Sherman: “Governor McKee’s much-touted proposal to cut the sales tax by 15 basis points, to 6.85%, was met coolly by both Democrats and Republicans on Smith Hill; some lawmakers questioned whether the estimated annual savings of $77 per household was worth the annual revenue loss of $35 million, while others said the proposed cut was much too small. Neither set of critics is likely to change their tune now that the McKee administration has acknowledged they made an error in calculating the savings – households would actually only end up saving about $39 per year, with businesses getting the rest. Administration officials remain resolute in their stance that the 15-basis-point cut represents fiscally responsible relief to taxpayers. But other proposals are already being put forward, like a Democratic bill to lower the tax to 6% and a Republican bill to cut it to 5%. McKee’s entire $13.7 billion budget plan will start getting formally vetted by the House Finance Committee at a hearing next week.”
11. Also from Eli Sherman — don’t miss his must-read story on brewing municipal opposition in Exeter (and elsewhere) to Speaker Shekarchi’s housing construction push.
12. Dr. Megan Ranney is leaving Brown’s School of Public Health to become dean of Yale’s. The next shoe to drop: will Dr. Ashish Jha return as Brown’s dean when he finishes up his tour of duty at the White House, and if so, when will that be?
13. Remember Steve Laffey? Since his unsuccessful challenge to Linc Chafee in the 2006 U.S. Senate primary, he’s twice sought office in Colorado, once for governor (briefly) and once for Congress (losing a four-way primary). Now Laffey and Chafee will have even more in common than West Bay mayoralties and U.S. Senate aspirations; Laffey announced this week he is running for president. Quixotic? Probably, when the competition includes national Republican leaders like Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis. But Laffey insisted to The Globe’s Brian Amaral, “This is a very serious thing.” The top plank on his issues page: a proposal to lower long-term Social Security spending, inspired by BU’s Laurence Kotlikoff. It’s unclear how much appetite fellow Republicans will have for changing Social Security, though, considering what Trump and House GOP leaders have had to say on the topic of late.
14. Treasurer Diossa’s transition team has released an 11-page report making recommendations to improve the operations of his new office.
15. Congratulations to Governor McKee on the birth of his first grandchild, a baby girl named Mabel.
16. My colleague Mike Montecalvo takes an in-depth look at “The War on Alzheimer’s.”
17. Tune in Saturday night from 7 to 11 p.m. as WPRI 12 broadcasts the 47th Annual Meeting Street Telethon — and give generously!
18. As we shiver our way through the coldest stretch in recent memory, here’s a fun result from the polling archives (via CNN’s Ariel Edwards-Levy). In 1960, Gallup asked Americans, “What is your favorite month of the year?” May was the winner at 19%, nearly tied by June at 18%. The rest of the list: July and October (10% each); September (8%); April, August and December (7% each); January, March and November (2% each); and – dead last – February (1%). Are any of you in the 1% that loves this month?
19. We are a month into 2023, and some of us may need a reset on our New Year’s Resolutions. Isabel Fattal offers some tips on how to build a happier year, and The New York Times talked with mental-health experts about how to stop ruminating.
20. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. Watch Sunday at 5:30 a.m. on WPRI 12 and 10 a.m. on Fox Providence, or listen on the radio Sunday at 6 p.m. on WPRO. You can also subscribe to Newsmakers as a podcast on iTunes (or wherever you get your podcasts). See you back here next Saturday morning.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook