Rhode Island governor Gina Raimondo’s nomination to lead the Commerce Department sailed out of the Senate Commerce Committee in a 21-3 vote Wednesday morning, in spite of her refusal to commit to keeping Huawei on the Entity List, a U.S. government blacklist.
If she is confirmed, Raimondo will be a power player in the Biden administration’s China policy debates. During the Trump administration, Washington learned to use the Commerce Department’s tools to its advantage in its campaign against the use of CCP-linked tech in the United States.
Raimondo doesn’t seem wholly oblivious to the danger of allowing unfettered access to companies with close ties to Beijing. The Commerce secretary-designate walked a bizarre tightrope during her confirmation hearing in January in which she still promised to “protect Americans and our network from Chinese interference,” but still neglected to commit to keeping Huawei on the Entity List. For good reason, this drew criticism from House Republicans and more than a few of the Republican senators who will eventually have to vote on her nomination.
But it seems that she gave a clearer answer in a response to written questions that was published to the Congressional Record this week:
With respect to the Entity List, I understand that parties are placed on the Entity List and the Military End User List generally because they pose a risk to U.S. national security or foreign policy interests. I currently have no reason to believe that entities on those lists should not be there. If confirmed, I look forward to a briefing on these entities and others of concern.
Will the new administration opt to take Huawei off of the Entity List? It’s difficult to say, but Biden struck a fairly hawkish tone on Chinese tech on the campaign trail. What’s more likely is that Raimondo, who has a background in state politics rather than in national security, wasn’t properly briefed on the matter before her hearing. It’s also very likely that the written clarification following her confirmation hearing comments — which, while a step in the right direction, doesn’t amount to a commitment — is an attempt to telegraph her awareness of the issue without compromising the White House’s promise to formally review the previous administration’s policies before deciding whether to keep them.
But Raimondo could have saved herself a lot of trouble by just pledging to keep Huawei and other designated Chinese tech companies on the list.