Biden's Commerce pick, Raimondo, voices tough line on China

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Commerce secretary-nominee Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo testifies remotely during her nomination hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s pick to oversee the Commerce Department took a tough line on China in her confirmation hearing Tuesday, though she stopped short of singling out which Chinese companies should remain on a list that limits their access to advanced U.S. technology.

If confirmed, as expected, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, a former venture capitalist, would be responsible for promoting opportunities for economic growth domestically and overseas.

Raimondo focused her testimony before a Senate panel Tuesday on the need to help those sectors of the economy and the workers hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.

“COVID has shined a light on the inequities in our economy,” Raimondo said. “The president has been very clear, we’re going to build back better and more equitably, and I strongly support that.”

She would inherit a department that took actions during the Trump administration that heightened tensions with China, namely through tariffs and the blacklisting of companies by placing them on the U.S. government's so-called Entity List. U.S. companies need to get a license to sell sophisticated technology to companies on the list.

“China's actions have been anti-competitive, hurtful to American workers and businesses, coercive, and, as you point out, they're culpable for atrocious human rights abuses," Raimondo said in response to a question from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “So whether it's the entities list, or tariffs, or countervailing duties, I intend to use all those tools to the fullest extent possible to level the playing field for the American worker."

When Cruz pressed Raimondo on whether certain companies would remain on the Entity List, Raimondo said she would consult with lawmakers, industry and allies and “make an assessment as to what's best for American national and economic security."

Raimondo similarly demurred on a question about the tariffs the Trump administration had placed on imported steel and aluminum in the name of national security. Those tariffs have raised costs for metal-using industries. She told Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., that she would listen to him and manufacturers in his state and “take their needs into account."