WASHINGTON — The Commerce Department has taken on new significance lately, with wide-ranging authority over points as broad as expertise exports and local weather change. On Tuesday, President Biden’s nominee to run the sprawling company, Gina M. Raimondo, will seem earlier than the Senate Commerce Committee for a affirmation listening to. Ms. Raimondo, the present governor of Rhode Island, is a reasonable Democrat and former enterprise capitalist.
Here are 5 issues to look ahead to because the listening to will get underway at 10 a.m.
Countering China’s rising technological attain
Senators of each events are possible to query Ms. Raimondo on how she plans to use the Commerce Department’s powers to counter China’s rising mastery of cutting-edge and delicate applied sciences, like superior telecommunications and synthetic intelligence.
The Trump administration made heavy use of the division’s authorities to crack down on Chinese expertise companies, turning usually to the so-called entity checklist, which permits the United States to block firms from promoting American merchandise and expertise to sure international companies with out first acquiring a license. Dozens of firms have been added to the Commerce Department’s list, together with telecom giants like Huawei and ZTE, which many American lawmakers see as threats to nationwide safety.
“You can be reasonably confident that the members will demand a tough line” on China, stated William Reinsch, a commerce professional on the Center for Strategic and International Studies who was a high-level commerce official through the Clinton administration.
The Commerce Department was additionally given accountability for outlining President Donald J. Trump’s U.S. ban on the Chinese-owned social media apps TikTok and WeChat — actions that have been subsequently halted by a court docket order — and for learning bans towards different Chinese apps. Mr. Biden has said he sees TikTok’s entry to American knowledge as a “matter of genuine concern,” but it surely’s unclear how the brand new administration will deal with these points.
But the Commerce Department has different capabilities that some tech specialists say have been underutilized within the Trump administration, just like the function it performs in setting world expertise requirements that personal companies should operated underneath. China has taken an more and more lively function in world standards-setting our bodies lately, serving to to guarantee adoption of applied sciences which can be made in China, Mr. Reinsch stated, and senators could press Ms. Raimondo on the difficulty.
Jump-starting the financial restoration
Mr. Biden has emphasised Ms. Raimondo’s function in serving to to promote small companies whereas serving because the governor of Rhode Island — each earlier than and through the pandemic.
As commerce secretary, she would wield sure authorities that would assist struggling companies and advance the Biden administration’s objectives of increase home business and revitalizing American analysis and improvement.
That consists of financial improvement packages and manufacturing partnerships that the Commerce Department presents to small and midsize enterprises, in addition to its core mission of selling American exports.
The division might additionally play a much bigger function in increasing high-speed web entry for rural and low-income communities, a very vital subject because the pandemic has pressured a lot commerce and education on-line. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an company throughout the Commerce Department, leads the federal government’s efforts on broadband entry.
Enforcing commerce guidelines and tariffs set by the Trump administration
Ms. Raimondo might face questions concerning the division’s deliberate function in imposing commerce guidelines. It has the accountability for imposing tariffs on international international locations which can be discovered to be unfairly subsidizing and pricing their items, making them cheaper to promote within the United States.
The Trump administration additionally started contemplating international locations’ manipulation of their foreign money — which may additional drive down the price of a product overseas — as a sort of international subsidy, and imposed the primary tariffs to counter that. That step is fashionable with labor unions and plenty of congressional Democrats, but it surely has rankled international allies, and it’s unclear how aggressively the Biden administration will pursue the coverage.
Another possible query for Ms. Raimondo relates to the tariffs that Mr. Trump levied on international metal and aluminum, ostensibly to defend American nationwide safety. Mr. Biden, Ms. Raimondo and others can have to determine whether or not to preserve or rescind these tariffs, that are supported by steel making unions however deeply unpopular with international governments and different industries whose costs rose in consequence.
Counting the American citizens with out political affect
President Trump and his deputies on the Commerce Department led a controversial effort to exclude undocumented immigrants from the state inhabitants counts performed by the Census Bureau, that are then used to decide congressional illustration and federal funding.
That effort, which might have translated into extra political energy for Republicans, failed after quite a few court docket challenges and delays in computing the information. Democrats strongly criticized the trouble, calling it unconstitutional.
Members of the Senate committee could search reassurances from Ms. Raimondo about how the Census Bureau will calculate its inhabitants knowledge sooner or later, and when the Census expects to submit the most recent numbers.
Delving into Ms. Raimondo’s previous
Like a few of Mr. Biden’s different nominees, Ms. Raimondo has confronted a little bit of backlash from progressive Democrats, who’ve criticized her shut ties with enterprise capital and massive tech companies. Before working for political workplace, Ms. Raimondo was a founding worker on the funding agency Village Ventures, which was backed by Bain Capital, and co-founded her personal enterprise capital agency, Point Judith Capital.
Some progressives have additionally condemned sure actions she took as governor of Rhode Island, together with clashing with unions throughout an overhaul of the state’s pension plans and lengthening some legal responsibility protections to nursing properties and well being care amenities through the pandemic. But Democrats, who will help Ms. Raimondo’s speedy affirmation, are unlikely to press too laborious on these points, if in any respect.
Some Republicans have pointed to an ethics criticism filed towards Ms. Raimondo by the Rhode Island Republican Party, which complained that the state had granted a $1 billion contract to a gaming firm referred to as International Global Solutions Corporation with no aggressive bidding course of. A lobbyist for the group was additionally an officer with the Democratic Governors Association, which Ms. Raimondo led. But that criticism was dismissed in 2020, and Raimondo’s press workplace has described the difficulty as a partisan assault.
Over all, Ms. Raimondo’s potential controversies seem tame in contrast together with her predecessor, the financier Wilbur Ross, who turned enmeshed in scandal over his function within the division’s calculation of the census and climate forecasting, and myriad funding ties to international companies.
Ms. Raimondo’s financial disclosure forms, launched this month, additionally seem uncontroversial, exhibiting an annual wage of $150,245 from the state of Rhode Island and between $2.9 million and $7.5 million in money, funding accounts and different property, primarily mutual funds.