Updated at 2:58 p.m. ET
The Senate confirmed Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo on Tuesday as the next secretary of the U.S. Commerce Department.
With a 84-15 confirmation vote that was delayed by a procedural move in February by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Raimondo is set to lead one of the federal government’s most eclectic departments, which includes the Census Bureau, close to two months after President Biden announced the Democratic governor’s nomination.
As secretary, Raimondo is set to take on a portfolio of agencies that also includes the Minority Business Development Agency, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Raimondo, the first woman to lead Rhode Island, is cutting short her second term as governor of the country’s smallest state to join the Biden administration.
During the confirmation process, Raimondo emphasized the need for the department to address how the coronavirus pandemic has ravaged the economy and underscored structural inequities facing people of color and families with lower incomes.
“In this time of overlapping crises, the Commerce Department must be a partner to businesses and their workers to help them innovate and grow,” Raimondo said during the January confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee.
Among Raimondo’s most urgent agenda items in the coming weeks is overseeing the processing and release of the first results of the 2020 census, which are now more than two months overdue because of delays stemming from COVID-19 and last-minute schedule changes by the Trump administration.
On Tuesday, the Government Accountability Office, the congressional watchdog agency, announced that the head count remains on its list of “high-risk” government projects because of the delays and uncertainty in the quality of the data in light of the disruptions.
Unlike the previous administration, Raimondo is expected to defer to the expertise of the Census Bureau. In January, bureau officials said they expect to finish running delayed quality checks on the new state population counts used to determine representation in Congress and the Electoral College by the end of April.
“I commit to taking the politics out of [the] census, relying on expertise and doing everything I can to rebuild people’s trust in the census,” Raimondo told lawmakers during the Senate hearing. “It needs to be accurate.”
Still, Raimondo is set to inherit ongoing court challenges against the Commerce Department and Census Bureau, including a lawsuit by the state of Ohio over the bureau’s decision to also push back the release of the redistricting data needed to redraw voting maps by about six months to allow for more quality checks.
Those redistricting data, which cannot be produced until after the bureau finishes processing the apportionment counts, are now expected by Sept. 30. But the office of Ohio State Attorney General Dave Yost is asking U.S. District Judge Thomas Rose to order the bureau to deliver the data to the states by March 31. That date is the current legal deadline that may be extended through legislation a bipartisan group of U.S. senators say they plan to introduce soon.
A court hearing for Ohio’s lawsuit is tentatively scheduled for March 19.