Sec. Raimondo ‘optimistic’ about clearing supply logjam at U.S. ports by Christmas

Judy Woodruff takes a closer look at how the Biden administration plans to address global supply chain challenges and combating inflation with Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. Raimondo addresses both the supply shortage of general consumer goods and also vital items like semiconductors.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now let's take a closer look at several economic issues, including our lead story, how the Biden administration plans to address the challenges around getting the goods Americans want delivered from overseas when they want them.

    And, for that, I'm joined by the secretary of commerce, Gina Raimondo.

    Secretary Raimondo, welcome back to the "NewsHour." It's so good to you have.

    We listened carefully to what the president had to say today. People are saying it is a step in the right direction. But he's also saying a lot depends on the private sector. How much difference is it going to make if you simply say the ports are going to be working 24/7?

    Gina Raimondo, U.S. Secretary of Commerce: Yes.

    Well, good evening. It's great to be with you.

    It will make a huge difference. What the president did today is significant in showing the leadership necessary to have these two of America's largest ports open 24/7. But he also convened at the White House the private sector, like you said, Walmart, Samsung, the importers, and asking them to do their part, which is also commit to working weekends, commit to working evenings, commit to putting more people on staff, so we can unload the cargo and make space on the port.

    So this is — this problem wasn't created overnight. It's not going to be fixed overnight. But this is a big step forward and I think we will start to see relief.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I'm asking because some people who are close to the — what the ports do are already sounding skeptical. They're saying not all the terminals at these ports out on the West Coast are operating 24/7. They are pointing out truckers are still being required to return a certain kind of container in order to fill up another — to fill it up with other goods.

    I mean, how much of that has been worked out?

  • Gina Raimondo:

    We are working through all of those details.

    I will say this is, within the administration, a 24/7 effort on our end. You know, the ports will go 24/7. We're at 24/7. It's incredibly complex. All of these supply chain issues we are grappling with are incredibly complex.

    So, as I say, there is no one fix. The ports have to be open 24/7. The private sector has to step up and do their part, hire more people, have nights and weekends. Logistics experts are coming in to help. Secretary Buttigieg and the White House and my team, we're going through the details to make sure that we unclog the bottleneck at every level.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And does that mean what people want in time for Christmas is going to make it?

  • Gina Raimondo:

    Well, that is…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What is the timetable you are looking at?

  • Gina Raimondo:

    That is the big question.

    Consumers are struggling right now. I'm sure you see it yourself. You see it yourself. Things are more expensive. It's harder to get what you want as fast as you want it.

    And I think we all have to be a little bit patient. But we're still in October, so I'm optimistic for a good Christmas. I think we're going to start to see progress over the next 30, 60 days because of the actions we're starting today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we know this is not just a pandemic-related thing. It's e-commerce is the wave of the future.

  • Gina Raimondo:

    That's exactly right.

    And a lot of what we are struggling with is, we had been primarily a services economy. Then, when COVID came everybody stayed home and started buying things. And we haven't yet caught up. So, we just need a bit more time to get the supply chains moving again, so we can increase the supply. Prices will come down, and people will be able to access what they want and need.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let me ask about another part of this supply and demand mismatch that we're dealing with right now, and a very big part of it.

    And that is semiconductors. You have been very focused on that piece of the problem. These are the tiny computer chips that power everything from cars to smartphones to every imaginable kind of appliance. How long are those bottlenecks going to be with us?

  • Gina Raimondo:

    They could be with us for awhile.

    So, we are — things are going to get a little bit better over the course of the next six, nine months. But to really solve that problem, Judy, we need to make more chips in America. It's very simple. We don't make enough here in our country.

    So, right now, as part of the president's package that he's trying to get through Congress is an investment of billions of dollars to incentivize companies to make semiconductors in America again. We founded the semiconductor industry in America, and now we make none of the world's leading-edge chips in America. It is mostly all in Taiwan.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Gina Raimondo:

    So, I am extremely focused on this. We are working with suppliers to encourage more transparency, pushing them to the limit to increase production.

    But the real solution here is what President Biden is asking for, which is investments in American manufacturing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, again, what people are asking is, how long is this going to take?

    You mentioned Taiwan. China is also a piece of this puzzle. We did hear the president say this afternoon: "We should never have to relay on one country for goods, especially when that one country does not share our values."

    I mean, that sounds like he is in a hurry to get this done.

  • Gina Raimondo:

    Yes, he is in a hurry. He needs to be in a hurry. He feels the pain of the American people, who are — can't buy their cars, can't buy their trucks. Trucker — trucking companies can't put the fleet — can't buy what they need, because trucks and cars and medical equipment are all being held up, for want of semiconductors.

    So he is in a hurry. We are in a hurry. But Congress needs to be in a hurry and go ahead and pass the Build Back Better legislation, so we can get back to work.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Best-case scenario, when should Americans look for semiconductors to be made in any significant quantity?

  • Gina Raimondo:

    Yes, I think you will start to see improvement next year. You know, this — the — it will take years, really.

    But into 2022, we will start to see relief in the semiconductor supply chain.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The broader economy.

    Inflation, everybody is talking about it now. New numbers out today, we see it is running much higher than the administration's experts, the Federal Reserve had been forecasting. How long-term a problem do you believe it is? And how much concern do you have that whatever the concrete factors are, that higher prices get built into people's expectations, and then that begins to have a self-fulfilling effect on how much things cost?

  • Gina Raimondo:

    So, this is a tough one, because we believe it's temporary, but that doesn't mean it is not real right now.

    So, if you're going to the grocery store or you're filling up your car with gas, prices are higher. And that is hard for Americans. That is a reality. That is today's reality. But we're working like crazy to make sure it's temporary.

    And the reason I believe it's temporary is, listen, we track this every day all day. It's still primarily related to COVID. So, car prices are high. Used car prices are high. That goes directly to the lack of semiconductors. Other prices are high. Our manufacturing sector hasn't ramped up again post-COVID.

    So I'm hopeful, with a little bit of time, with the investments that Congress has to make in work force, in manufacturing, in infrastructure, we will be able to keep a lid on inflation.

    But I don't want to take anything away from the fact that, at the moment, if you are listening to me, you're saying, yes, but it's expensive. And so we have to work to make sure it's temporary.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I hear you saying it's short-term, but just a moment ago, you said it is going to take time, for example, to get the semiconductor issue worked through.

    So, it's hard for someone looking at this to see how these prices just quickly start to come down.

  • Gina Raimondo:

    Yes. Yes, again, I don't think there is a quick fix.

    I will say, though, if you look at say lumber, a few months ago, lumber prices were shooting through the roof. We have worked hard on that. We and the White House have convenings with the lumber industry. Those prices have come down, and they're coming down.

    I think that steps we took today with ports, you're going to start to see things improve. So, it is more, I suppose, slow and steady. But when you asked me about inflation, for the long term, I am much more worried about the economy if we don't make the Build Back Better investments. Like, our long-term job creation and productivity depends on the investments in infrastructure, ports, broadband job training, child care, eldercare that the president is calling on.

    That's what is going to make America able to compete in the long run.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, right now, that is a question mark, isn't it?

  • Gina Raimondo:

    It is.

    We're working hard. We're still optimistic. The president is showing leadership. But Congress needs to make it happen.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The secretary of commerce, Gina Raimondo, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

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