President Trump has been taking up much of the domestic news spotlight and fueling continuing debate over the state of the Republican party, both of which have impacted discussions of what would normally be key events following a Presidential election. The transition team efforts haven’t been getting much attention beyond the attempts to stymie recognition and cash by the Trump administration. The declared nominees for various roles in the Biden administration have also been pushed off their usual front page positions into secondary consideration.
For the most part, this is probably for the best. Right now, Trump has been focused on conning money out of his followers with a farcical “kraken” attempt toward bypassing the election results, using easily debunked and irrational claims of voter fraud. Criticism of Biden’s selections will only add fuel to Trump’s dwindling sparks of Presidential influence. And, for the most part, I have not been pleased with Biden’s selections.
That’s not to say I find them incompetent; rather, that most of them seem well equipped for their jobs but that they tend to have views which I find counterproductive or damaging toward national success, as I would define success. As an old-school conservative, I’m watching the country transition between one group of administrators I loathed to another group I dislike. This is not a moment of cheer for me.
But… Katherine Tai.
This choice has the distinct possibility of being one of a few “Ajit Pai” moments for me with the new Biden administration. Ajit Pai was the chairman of the FCC selected by Trump. He immediately took bold moves restricting the terrible march toward “net neutrality” which had been occurring under Obama, and has since run his organization competently and cleverly, all while reaching out to average citizens and industry groups alike for their feedback. During the efforts to restrict speech on the internet, he has made soothing noises at people like Trump and Ted Cruz… but hasn’t taken any moves to undermine individual freedom despite their insistence. I like Pai, and I don’t think I like any other member of the Trump administration.
Katherine Tai is Biden’s choice to be trade representative. She’d be taking over for Robert Lighthizer, who has been generally competent but has been clearly willing to push Trump’s asinine foreign trade positions to the point of tangibly elevating our adversaries in pursuit of symbolic gains. Lighthizer has negotiated for greater vehicle access to the South Korean market despite a dearth of sales in the existing access. He has traded away labor benefits for a renaming of NAFTA. He has continued to plug away in that regard, threatening and taxing our allies under the direction of Trump.
Biden has set himself up for criticism with the number of “firsts” in his cabinet. There are a disproportionate number of minorities of all groups in his selections, ranging from first transsexuals to first ethnic minorities to a lot of first women. This is a great thing if the reason is because the most competent person (or even one of a few equally competent people) available is a minority; shattering glass ceilings is always welcome. It’s a bad thing if less competent people are being selected because of their minority status. Politics being what it is, the Republicans are going to insist that every selection falls into the latter category and the Democrats are going to insist they all reside within the former. Tai, while being both female and of Asian descent, seems to be the best person for the job.
She doesn’t have the experience with direct trade negotiation Lighthizer has, but she’s been a lawyer specializing in trade disputes for more than a decade, first at the Trade Representative’s Office of General Counsel and then as Trade Counsel for the House Ways and Means Committee. In other words, she doesn’t have experience negotiating the deals but she’s among the most expert people in the country when it comes to legally interpreting and enforcing the deals.
The position she’s filling is an administrative one. Much as Lighthizer has a staff, she will have one… and that staff will be filled, as was Lighthizer’s, with professional negotiators. She doesn’t need to be the person squeezing the last penny from the agreement, she has to be able to look over the agreement and discover if there are any holes that opponents might exploit. That is her exact specialty.
Better, she is not simply of Asian descent, she is an American of Taiwanese descent… one who speaks Mandarin fluently because her parents were emigres. She’s won cases before the World Trade Organization, but does not have a long history of interaction directly with Chinese officials.
Summing up: one of the nation’s top experts on trade agreements; a family history that suggests a slight bias against our top trade adversary; fluency in the language of that adversary; and a lack of familiarity which can be exploited against her.
I reserve the right to be disappointed, just as I reserved that right in the case of Ajit Pai, should she fail to live up to her history. But I expect to be very pleased, and her selection has my full support.