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Biden Picks Gina M. Raimondo for Commerce Secretary

Some progressive groups have protested Ms. Raimondo’s selection, arguing that the Biden administration should look to a populist Democrat instead. In a Jan. 6 announcement, the Revolving Door Project and Demand Progress criticized Ms. Raimondo as a “corporate insider” who locked in liability protection for businesses but stripped funding from low-income areas of Rhode Island during the pandemic.

A progressive Democrat could wield the powers of the Commerce Department to combat climate change, limit pharmaceutical patents and decrease drug costs, reform the census process to decrease gerrymandering, and craft trade policy that would help working families, the statement said.

Some critics have asked whether Ms. Raimondo has the technical background to devise and carry out a strategy to deal with technology challenges from China. In addition to denouncing deindustrialization and promoting business in Rhode Island, she does have firsthand experience with China’s economic challenges: Her father was laid off when the watch factory where he worked in Providence, R.I., moved to China.

Historically, the choice of a commerce secretary has sometimes had more to do with patronage than strategy, with some past administrations appointing a wealthy donor to the post. But given the growing importance of the U.S. competition with China, trade experts say, the position demands someone with expertise who is able to understand the cutting-edge technologies the department regulates and balance the competing demands of business promotion and national security.

Michael Smart, a managing director and trade expert at Rock Creek Global Advisors, said a large part of the Biden administration’s “affirmative agenda in response to China,” which includes efforts to make the American economy more competitive, would fall within the Commerce Department’s jurisdiction.

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William Reinsch, the Scholl chair in international business at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Mr. Biden and his team had placed a lot of emphasis on competing more effectively with China, including efforts to augment American industry that could be run through the Commerce Department.

“When you’re in a race, there’s only two ways to win. One is to trip the other guy, and the other is to run faster,” Mr. Reinsch said. “And to Biden’s credit, he’s really focused on running faster.”


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