Press Briefing by Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo : Trump’s China Tariffs, Infrastructure Plan 4/7/2021
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April 7, 2021

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On 4/7/2021, during the news briefing, a reporter asked Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, “some Republicans have looked at this plan and said: If you increase the corporate tax rate overall in the long run, jobs could be eliminated. They cite one study, the Tax Foundation, that says that increasing the corporate tax rate will eliminate 159,000 jobs over the next 10 to 30 years. How do you respond to that criticism that in the long run this plan kills jobs?”

Sec Raimondo: I don’t agree with that assessment. So, a few — a few points… With respect to taxes, there is not a shred of evidence to show that the cuts in 2017 increased growth or productivity. Actually, very little of it went into additional R&D.

With respect to Senator Coons, I am not going to disagree with his assessment because he’s been up here longer than my four weeks. But, look, I think it’s early to say. The President put his plan out a week ago. Let’s give it a shot; let’s go big. I can tell you this: Every single business leader I’ve talked to applauds the fact that this package is more than just roads, bridges, and water.

To compete in the long run with China, we need to rebuild America in all of the ways we’re talking about today — and, by the way, do that with our allies. You know, we have to work with our allies and find common ground where we can.

With respect to tariffs, there is a place for tariffs. You know the 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum have, in fact, helped save American jobs in the steel and aluminum industries. So what do we do with tariffs? We have to level the playing field. No one can outcompete the American worker if the playing field is leveled. And the fact is China has — China’s actions are uncompetitive, coercive, underhanded. They’ve proven they’ll do whatever it takes. And so I plan to use all the tools in my toolbox, as aggressively as possible, to protect American workers and businesses from unfair Chinese practices.

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Full Transcript
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room 12:21 P.M. EDT

Psaki: Hi. Good afternoon. Okay. Joining us today is another member of the President’s Jobs Cabinet, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. As you all know, the Secretary was the first woman to be governor of Rhode Island, where she kick-started the state’s economy and achieved a record number of jobs and the lowest unemployment in a generation thanks to investments in infrastructure, education, and job training.

As governor, she prioritized creating jobs, supporting workers, and improving the quality and availability of services in the care economy, including supporting wage increases for care workers.

She also chair — served as chair of the Democratic Governors Association in 2019. In 2010, she was elected General Treasurer of Rhode Island, receiving the largest number of votes of any statewide candidate. When she took office as General Treasurer, she tackled the state’s $7 billion unfunded pension liability.

The Secretary is focused on a simple but vital mission: to spur good-paying jobs, empower entrepreneurs to innovate and grow, and help American workers and businesses compete.

As always, she can stay for a few questions. I’ll be the bad cop. And with that, we’ll turn it over to the Secretary.

Sec Raimondo: Thank you, Jen. Good afternoon, everybody.

Question: Good afternoon.

Sec Raimondo: Nice to see all of you. And it’s an honor for me to be here to talk a little bit about President Biden’s American Jobs Plan.

At its core, the American Jobs Plan is about making sure every American has the opportunity to get a decent job. A decent, well-paying job, with dignity and has opportunity.

It’s a historic investment in America, intended to create tens of millions of jobs, rebuild our country’s infrastructure, and position the United States to outcompete China.

Many have commented that it’s large, it’s bold. It’s necessarily large because, frankly, we’re behind, and we’ve neglected for too long important investments in our infrastructure.

We need to ensure that investments in infrastructure, advanced manufacturing, workforce development, and our care economy are made — are made at the scale we need and are made in every single community in America.

And as the President has — has led us to — is leading us to build back better, that means we need to do so more inclusively and ensure that these investments that we are making — in broadband, in housing, in the care economy, in water — are in every community in America: rural, tribal, urban, communities of color, and reaching everyone across America.

The fact is, we have failed for a long time to invest. And as a result, we have fallen behind. So why does that matter? It matters because it makes it harder for small businesses to compete. It makes — it matters because it makes it harder for American companies to compete, and it makes it harder for the average American to get a decent job and to get the skills they need in order to get a high-paying job in the industries that are growing today and tomorrow.

And the fact of the matter is, we know that lack of investment, particularly in public transportation, transit, water, housing, has hurt low-income folks and people of color the most. And it’s time to finally rectify that systemic inequality and build back better and more equally.

As Jen said, my job as the Commerce Secretary is to do everything I can to enable American businesses of all sizes to compete. And at its core, the American Jobs Plan is about investing in American competitiveness, strengthening our workforce, rebuilding infrastructure, and leveling the playing field so all Americans have a shot at a good job.

Now, prior to being Commerce Secretary, I was governor for six years. Prior to that, I was in the private sector. And so over the course of my career, as an entrepreneur and as governor, now as Commerce Secretary, I have had many, many, many discussions with businesses, from the biggest to the smallest. And over the years, there is something that we all seem to agree on, which is that we need to make massive investments in our infrastructure if we are going to compete and ensure America’s global competitiveness.

And most recently, I have spent a lot of time in the past few weeks talking to business leaders, and I can report to you that there’s a broad level of enthusiasm for big investments in infrastructure. And I think there is a recognition that President Biden is doing the right thing in pushing us to conceive of infrastructure as broad, as including investments in STEM, research and development, investments in basic research, investments in broadband, investments in training our workforce. And the truth of it is, that’s what it’s going to take to compete.

A key component of the American Jobs Plan is training our workforce. This is a reality. The changes in the American economy, many of which have been massively accelerated by COVID, are very scary for millions of Americans. It’s a scary place to be to need a job and not have the skills to get a good job.

And so that’s why this package calls for big investments in training our workforce. Now, as Jen said, this was a priority of mine when I was governor, and I saw it work. I know it works. We saw it work.

When I ran for governor, my state, Rhode Island — if you haven’t been, I want you to go — had the highest unemployment rate in the country. Number one in America. It was sad — very sad. The unemployment rate in the building trades when I took over was over 20 percent. Think about what that does to a community.

When I — before COVID, after a lot of our work, Rhode Island had more jobs than at any time in our state’s history, because we leaned into it in a broad fashion, similar to what this package calls for: investments in infrastructure, working with business, and big investments in work or training.

So, the fact of the matter is, in order to compete, we have to have investments in apprenticeships, community colleges, STEM education, job training.

My view is: If you have the guts, in the middle of your career, to go out and get some job training to retrain yourself to get a new job, then we need to be there for you to provide high-quality, demand-driven, affordable — if not free — job training.

The American Jobs Plan also is about strengthening our supply chains, making things in America, making critical goods in America, creating good jobs in the process, and increasing the security that we have, knowing that we aren’t overly dependent on other countries for critical supplies. We saw that on full displaying in COVID. Every governor knows what it’s like to be up in the middle of the night — can’t get your hands on PPE or ventilators or medicine because they aren’t manufactured in America.

We also need to invest in domestic manufacturing, particularly for critical industries like semiconductors. We all know semiconductors are the building blocks of our future economy. And as we go through the data and digital revolution, semiconductors underpin so much of the new technology where we’ll see job creation.

So we’ve — we are living through now a global chip shortage. We’re seeing that hurt businesses in every sector, and so we need to strengthen our domestic supply chains. The American Jobs Plan calls for a $50 billion investment in semiconductor manufacturing and research, as it’s called for in the bipartisan CHIPS Act.

Finally, we need strong investments in our broadband infrastructure. We’ve seen more clearly than ever before that high-quality, affordable broadband isn’t a luxury, but it’s a necessity for education, jobs, and healthcare. But millions and millions of Americans don’t have access to broadband, particularly in rural communities.

I finally want to address one last component, which is the investments in the care economy. You might say to yourself, “Why is the Commerce Secretary talking about investments in the care economy?” Because it matters. It is core to our competitiveness. In order for you to be able to go to work, you need to know that your loved one is being taken care of.

And also, we have millions and millions of women, mostly women of color, working full-time, caring for our loved ones, living in poverty. It’s time to make those investment so they can have a dignified job and so that we can shore up our communities.

As Jen said, I did a lot of work of this as governor. And it’s something that I’m very proud of President Biden and to be on the team of a president who’s investing in the care economy.

So, fundamentally, this plan invests in American workers and businesses, small and large alike, so they can compete and win in the global marketplace. And I’m psyched to talk to you about it and proud to be on the team that’s going to get this done.

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Psaki: All right. Kristen.

Question: Thank you, Jen. Thank you, Secretary Raimondo, for being here. As you know, some Republicans have looked at this plan and said: If you increase the corporate tax rate overall in the long run, jobs could be eliminated. They cite one study, the Tax Foundation, that says that increasing the corporate tax rate will eliminate 159,000 jobs over the next 10 to 30 years. How do you respond to that criticism that in the long run this plan kills jobs?

Sec Raimondo: I don’t agree with that assessment. So, a few — a few points.

First of all, every business leader I talk to, big and small, agrees we must make these investments in infrastructure in order to compete. If we don’t invest in semiconductors, we’re going to fall further behind. If we don’t invest in job training, we’re not going to have the workforce that businesses need to compete. So it’s essential that we make these investments.

With respect to taxes, there is not a shred of evidence to show that the cuts in 2017 increased growth or productivity. Actually, very little of it went into additional R&D.

So, the fact of the matter is, the corporate structure today is broken. Many, many companies don’t pro- — large profitable companies pay no corporate taxes. So I’d like to think we can all agree that it needs to be improved, level the playing field, close the loopholes, and have a discussion around how we do this together to improve competitiveness.

Question: If it is raised to 28 percent, though, that would put the U.S. at one of the highest in the world. Does it have to be 28 percent? Would you go lower? Could you accomplish the same thing if the tax rate weren’t raised to 28 percent?

SECRETARY RAIMONODO: So, there is room for compromise; that is clear. The President has said a few things: We have to get this investment done. He’s charged us to work across the aisle and in a bipartisan way, and to — and we need to pay for what we’re doing. Like, our proposal is to invest in 8 years and pay it back over 15.

Now, we can have a discussion about that. Should we pay it back over 20 instead of 15? Is the rate not quite 28? Is it something, you know, lower? So we’re — we want to compromise.

What we cannot do, and what I am imploring the business community not to do, is to say, “We don’t like 28. We’re walking away. We’re not discussing.” That’s unacceptable. Come to the table and problem-solve with us to come up with a reasonable, responsible plan.

Question: Thank you.

Psaki: Mario.

Question: Thank you, Madam Secretary. Two questions for you. On the infrastructure side, how do you target and make sure that those projects help minority communities? I’m thinking of the situation in Jackson, Mississippi, for example; Flint as well.

And then my other question is: How do you make sure that minorities are the beneficiaries of these jobs. Right? There’s been a long history of programs that were built to help minorities — I’m thinking of Opportunity Zones with the last administration — that didn’t ultimately help minorities.

Sec Raimondo: Yeah, really good question. Two things. So, again, the President has been very clear in this; this is about equity in everything we do. And I’m going to — I can promise you as Commerce Secretary — like, right now, we have $3 billion from the rescue package to invest in communities — I promise you now, equity is front and center. And that’s why I was saying we have to get the money everywhere — rural, tribal, urban — and prioritizing those who have been left behind.

With respect to the job training — you know, I can fall on my own experience — we did a back-to-work Rhode Island job training initiative, and we said we’re going to tar- — we’re going to make sure it’s equitable. More than half of the people trained were women; more than 25 percent were people of color. If you commit yourself to it, which is what we will do under the President’s leadership, we will make sure to make up for the fact that, as you say, in the past that hasn’t been done.

Psaki: Alex.

Question: Thank you. What is the status and direction of the China tech policy review? And more specifically, what about TikTok?

Sec Raimondo: Yeah. So, this — I’ll say quickly: We need to play offense and defense. The jobs package is offense: invest in America competitiveness so we can play offense. A lot of the tools that Commerce has are defense: the entities list, tariffs, et cetera.

So we are — you know, led by Jake Sullivan and our team interagency review — we’re in the process of doing it now. A lot of people have said it’s probably going to stay on the Entity List. I have no reason to believe that they won’t, but we’re kind of in the middle of the overall review of the China policy.

Question: How close is that to being completed?

Sec Raimondo: I would actually defer that more to the White House. But I would say we’re — we’re in the thick of it right now. Like we’re working as aggressively as we can. We’re not wasting time on it.

Psaki: Zeke.

Question: Thank you, Secretary. I was hoping to draw on your experience as governor, with regard to the virus. The White House and the President have been calling on governors across the country not to roll back virus restric- — virus restrictions, business capacity limitations, and the like. Yet, many, including many Democratic governors, have rolled back those policies steadily, even as cases have risen. You faced some of these struggles as governor. Can you speak to a little bit of what those governors are facing? And how would you advise them to balance their, you know, maybe their pressures at home versus the federal guidance here to keep those restrictions in place?

Sec Raimondo: So it’s a tough spot. To be a governor in America today is a challenge, and everyone is, you know, trying hard. I would say, first of all, they are so lucky that President Biden is in office now, after what we went through last year.

Secondly, follow the President’s lead around vaccinations. The administration is doing a fantastic job getting vaccinations out the door. And I think that it’s a balance. Listen, every governor knows what’s going on in their community. And I think we have to respect that. They — you know, they see what’s going on in their community.

Having said that, I would say, you know, the administration — the Biden administration is focused heavily on vaccinations. It has a fantastic strategy. And I would just encourage governors to lean into that, vaccinate people as quickly as possible, and don’t — just don’t jump the gun. I am not going to tell governors what to do. I just have lived it, and every time you jump the gun, you live to regret it.

So, vaccinate. Put the pedal to the metal on vaccinating more than lifting restrictions.

Psaki: Ed.

Question: Madam Secretary, thank you for being here. You oversee a big department — everything from the Weather Service to the Fisheries and the Census. Have you been briefed on the status of getting the results of the 2020 Census?

Sec Raimondo: Yes, I have.

Question: When’s it coming?

Sec Raimondo: Well, we think — we have said that the redistricting data will be available no later than September 30th. If it’s available before that, in a — you know, when we feel comfortable about it, we’ll put it out then, but we need a little bit more time.

Question: To state elections officials, secretaries of state who are sitting there, you know, scratching their head over which lines they should be using for elections this year —

Sec Raimondo: Yeah.

Question: — and next year, what do you say to them?

Sec Raimondo: I say: I know it’s tough, but be patient. You know, last year was a — was a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. The Census professionals had to do the Census in the middle of a global pandemic with COVID, civil unrest through the summer. So, we’re behind. You know, we are behind.

But my direction to the team is: We have to get it right. So I — having been a local politician, I hear — look, I hear them. But the fact of the matter is, it is so much better to wait a little longer and have accurate data that we all can trust. So I — we’re — rest assured, if it’s ready before the 30th, we’ll put it out. But we are prioritizing accuracy over rushing it out.

Question: There’s one wonky bit of this, though, and it’s the subject of lawsuits — differential privacy, where the idea of using essentially funky math to sort out some of this. Have you been briefed on that? And do you think that was a good idea at this point to have done it that way? Would you just recommend doing it that way in the future?

Sec Raimondo: So, in this regard, I have to rely on the experts. The experts at the Census Bureau are top-notch — career, top-notch statisticians and demographers.

Here’s the reality: That — what you’re referring to is a statistical technique that is intended to protect people’s privacy. It’s the first time we’ve used it.

Today, the way quantum computing and computing is such that we — there can be privacy hacks today that weren’t technologically available 10 years ago. So in order for us to keep up with that and protect people’s privacy, we have to implement new techniques, and this is one of those new techniques. So, yes, I think it’s justified.

Psaki: Cecilia, you’re going to be the last one.

Question: Thank you, Jen.

Psaki: But we’ll invite her back. We’ll invite her back.

Question: Thanks, Madam Secretary. Two quick ones on infrastructure for you. A friend of this White House, Senator Chris Coons, said today that he thinks it’s more likely that Democrats ultimately will end up with a less robust — this is his words — infrastructure package. He says it’s — could end up looking one that’s — like one that’s more directly targeted at what he’s calling “hard infrastructure.” Is that an accurate prediction to you at this stage?

And then, my second question — I’ll just tack it on here: The President — you’re one of the five Cabinet secretaries that President Biden tapped to, kind of, go out and sell this — his words — to engage the public. What has that entailed at this point, specifically as it relates to getting these Republicans on board with this plan?

Sec Raimondo: Talking to them. You know, sitting down, listening, engaging them. As I said before, we have put forth a bold proposal and a reasonable way to pay for it. There are other ideas.

So what I’m going to do — and all the Cabinet is doing and the White House — is sitting down with our Republicans friends and Democrats and business leaders and saying, “Okay, if you don’t like this, what’s your idea? How do you think we ought to pay for it?” If we — you know, “We are proposing paying for it over 15 years. What do you think?”

So I think, again, it’s all about finding that compromise and actually delivering for the American people. So that — anyway, I think broad engagement.

Question: How many Republicans have you had face-to-face conversations with?

Sec Raimondo: If you include Zoom as face-to-face —

Question: Yes.

Sec Raimondo: — I would say very many. Only a few actually face-to-face, but a lot. You know, a lot. And I plan to do even more of it. Like, we’re serious about this. We want to get this done. There’s a lot of different ways to do it. The President does what a leader does: puts forth his ideas. Now let’s get to work. Let’s talk about it. Where do we tweak it? Where do we change it?

With respect to Senator Coons, I am not going to disagree with his assessment because he’s been up here longer than my four weeks. But, look, I think it’s early to say. The President put his plan out a week ago. Let’s give it a shot; let’s go big.

I can tell you this: Every single business leader I’ve talked to applauds the fact that this package is more than just roads, bridges, and water. Like, come on, 35 percent of Americans in rural areas don’t have broadband. You cannot have a modern economy without that. We have a crisis in semiconductor manufacturing. You cannot have a modern economy without that.

So I hope that that isn’t where we settle because we’d be shortchanging the American people — workers and businesses.

Question: Could you take one more?

Psaki: All right, Jeff. You’re so convincing.

Question: Thank you. Secretary, just to follow up on Alex’s question about TikTok: Can you just clarify what your position is on whether TikTok needs to be sold by the Chinese company ByteDance that owns it now? And can you also give us a broad view of your advice to President Biden on tariffs with regard to China?

Sec Raimondo: So, I would say — here’s my broad view, and I don’t want to get into details on any particular company. My broad view is: What we do on offense is more important than what we do on defense.

To compete in the long run with China, we need to rebuild America in all of the ways we’re talking about today — and, by the way, do that with our allies. You know, we have to work with our allies and find common ground where we can.

With respect to tariffs, there is a place for tariffs. You know the 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum have, in fact, helped save American jobs in the steel and aluminum industries. So what do we do with tariffs? We have to level the playing field. No one can outcompete the American worker if the playing field is leveled.

And the fact is China has — China’s actions are uncompetitive, coercive, underhanded. They’ve proven they’ll do whatever it takes.

And so I plan to use all the tools in my toolbox, as aggressively as possible, to protect American workers and businesses from unfair Chinese practices.

Psaki: Yamiche, I don’t want to leave you hanging. And you were the last one hanging. At the risk, Yamiche.

Question: No, this is great. (Laughter.) Thank you, Madam Secretary.

Psaki: Hopefully the Secretary will come back after this, but go ahead.

Sec Raimondo: It depends what she asks. (Laughter.)

Psaki: Yeah. (Laughs.)

Question: Right. (Laughs.) Now it’s a lot of pressure. But thank you for taking my question, Madam Secretary.

What do you say to a business owner who’s looking at the U.S. and wondering, “Why should I start a company here when I could possibly do so in another country more cheaply?” How do we stay competitive, as the United States, for that business owner’s company?

Sec Raimondo: So, I’d say a few things. One, you cannot get better than American workers, American ingenuity, American innovation. Two, this Jobs Plan will enhance American competitiveness. You know, I know from being governor, businesses want to locate in communities with good infrastructure, good public transportation, clean water, excellent public schools. That’s where businesses want to be. That’s where their employees want to work.

So, if we pass this package, it will massively — businesses will want to be here — will want to be here more than they do now.

Also, the whole point of the tax reform as proposed by the administration is to get rid of the loopholes, level the playing field between big businesses and small businesses. I don’t know any small businesses in Rhode Island who are shielding their profits in tax havens around the world. Like, it’ll level the playing field, raise more money, and allow us to invest in job creating, infrastructure, and job training.

So, as a former business owner and as a former governor who recruited businesses, I think it’s a winner for business.

Question: Is there an alternative other than the 28 percent? It sounds like it’s a little open.

Sec Raimondo: Yes.

Question: What else could the White House come up with to pay for the infrastructure bill?

Sec Raimondo: Let’s have the discussion. Let us have the discussion. We put a plan out. Tell us what you think is an alternative, reasonable plan. But I would say: Don’t shortchange America. Don’t come back and say we only need a half a billion dollars of infrastructure, because we don’t; because if we do that, we’ll be in the same place or a worse place 10 years from now.

So, yes, we’re wide op- — reasonable people can disagree; we’ll find compromise. But let’s go big, and let’s do what’s required.

Psaki: All right. Thank you so much for joining us.

Sec Raimondo: Thank you. Bye. I can’t believe that you do this every day. (Laughter.) I always wanted to know.

Question: You don’t. (Laughter.)

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