But in an interview in her office a few blocks down the street from the White House, the former Rhode Island governor laid out a distinctly old-school — and bipartisan — relationship-building process that has made her what White House officials view as a key asset in the effort to lay the groundwork for the high-wire legislative process that lies ahead.
It’s a process, at least to this point, that’s a lot less about twisting arms, and a lot more about Maine lobsters. Or the Alaskan cruise industry. Or broadband access in rural Mississippi.
“Legislators deserve respect. They deserve to be listened to. They go back every week to their districts, and they have to be held to an accounting by their constituents,” Raimondo said. “And I just really respect that.”
The approach is one that echoes the view of her boss, a 36-year veteran of the Senate.
Biden’s approach drew criticism from some congressional Democrats, wary of wasting valuable time pursuing a deal that may never come to fruition or securing one that would jettison key Democratic priorities.
To this point, however, with the bipartisan framework in hand, things remain on the ever-tenuous track Biden has laid out.
Raimondo plans to do her part to keep it that way.
Outreach to key senators
To be clear, Raimondo oversees a sprawling portfolio at the Commerce Department with no shortage of domestic and international issues to manage.
But she’s become a key administration contact for Sen. Susan Collins, the moderate Maine Republican — a member of the bipartisan group that put together the infrastructure deal and a key vote who has at various points raised concerns about the approach of Biden’s senior advisers.
Collins and Raimondo formed a relationship over a critical issue for her state: the lobster industry. Collins asked Raimondo to dig into the issue before deploying new regulations. Raimondo did just that — and the two have stayed in contact.
“I’ve always admired her and her willingness to go against her party on things she believes in,” Raimondo said of her fellow New Englander.
“I did that because it’s the right thing to do for the people of Alaska,” Raimondo said.
“I also plan to squeeze them as hard as possible to vote for the bipartisan package,” she added, referring to Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan. “Because that’s also the right thing to do.”
His response? “Well, you know, it’s a process,” Raimondo said with a smile.
The efforts aren’t limited to Republicans. Raimondo will be on the road to Washington state for an event with Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell. She’s traveled to Massachusetts for an event with Sen. Ed Markey, a key progressive voice.
And then there was the dinner with her husband and Sen. Joe Manchin on the West Virginia Democrat’s houseboat (asked how the roughly five-hour experience went, Raimondo replied: “A great deal of scotch”).
For Raimondo, it’s an effort she says comes from her time as governor, noting it’s virtually impossible to get anything done in that role without productive relationships with legislators.
Raimondo is still engaged on the legislation, which has bipartisan support, but differences between House and Senate versions remain. She said she’s confident they will be reconciled given the urgency of the issue — and spoke to Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the issue just the other day.
“I think people realize this is a must-do bill,” she said.
But Biden specifically deputized his Cabinet secretaries as he rolled out his signature recovery packages — the $2.3 trillion American Jobs Act and the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan — to bolster his team’s efforts to sell the proposals.
Split into two councils — aptly named the Jobs Cabinet and the Families Cabinet — Biden’s Cabinet has…