When Gina Raimondo assumed her role as commerce secretary less than a month ago, she inherited a long list of things needing her attention: among them, the 2020 Census, which has been delayed for months, and a trade war that the Trump administration started with China.
Now, the Biden administration has to figure out whether to continue the fight, or put an end to it. China has a goal of becoming "the leading nation in the world," President Biden told reporters Thursday during his first news conference since taking office, but said "that's not going to happen on my watch."
Raimondo says the start of the Biden administration marks a new chapter in the U.S. relationship with Beijing.
"What you've seen the end of is a haphazard approach to dealing with China and tariffs overall," Raimondo says in an interview with All Things Considered.
Right now, she says, President Biden is focused on "crafting a whole strategy for how we protect American workers, level the playing field for American businesses and quite frankly, push back on China, whose behavior is threatening our security and prosperity and our values."
"We're very clear-eyed on the magnitude of the threat that China poses and we're prepared," she says.
The current trade war includes higher tariffs on steel and aluminum from China, which have helped U.S. companies in those industries.
But other American manufacturers — Whirlpool and Harley-Davidson, for instance — have complained that the tariffs have raised their costs and cut into profits, a point Raimondo acknowledges.
"I hear from a lot of, say, auto manufacturers or consuming businesses, that it's made it more difficult," she says, adding that she plans to review the process for allowing exclusions to the tariffs in order to help U.S. companies that use those raw materials.
Another area Raimondo is focused on is technology, and how China's behavior threatens U.S. national and economic security. One way to counter that is by investing more at home, Raimondo says. Semiconductors, for instance, is one sector where Raimondo says the U.S. has fallen behind. "We need to invest in more manufacturing in America and more technology in America," she says.
In order to compete with China — which Raimondo calls "a defining feature" of the Biden administration — the U.S. will also need to repair relationships with allies that were broken during the Trump administration, she says.
"You cannot sugarcoat the damage that President Trump caused in alienating some of our allies," Raimondo says.
The commerce secretary has spent her first weeks in office speaking with her counterparts in Europe, Canada and Mexico.
"They are wide open to the message of, it's a new day in America and we want to renew these alliances," she says.