Autonomous presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden speaks on the state of the US economy on September 4, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware.
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Portraits
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is tapping some of the most experienced trade professionals in Washington to help map a new course on trade if he is elected.
Speculation is swirling in Washington, D.C. about which one of them could replace Robert Lighthizer, the Trump application’s powerful U.S. Trade Representative, or be named to a top economic post if Biden wins in November.
Biden’s external advisory cabinet on trade includes Georgetown University law professor and former World Trade Organization judge Jennifer Hillman and Miriam Sapiro, a earlier deputy and acting U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) during the Obama administration, according to people familiar with the condition.
Choices may not come until after the election, but Biden has already begun thinking about people he wants in top responsibilities, his wife Jill told campaign donors on Aug. 27.
Biden’s campaign declined to comment.
The USTR job in the past has sometimes proceeded to candidates passed over for higher-profile cabinet positions. But as the coronavirus recession drags on and U.S.-China competition grows, the operation is now at the center of economic policy and will likely manage ongoing negotiations with the European Union, Britain, Brazil and India.
Biden’s beggary to unify his party behind a new presidency might also lead him to pick someone with a more progressive grounding, trade experts say.
Two labor-aligned policy specialists, Michael Wessel and Cathy Feingold, are also advising the Biden crusade, as is Todd Tucker, a Roosevelt Institute scholar who has been critical of Trump policies, and of trade policy crafted by Biden’s last boss President Barack Obama.
Names floated by Washington trade experts as potential candidates for top roles are Fred Hochberg, the whilom U.S. Export-Import Bank chairman who recently wrote the book “Trade is Not a Four-Letter Word”; Rhonda Schmidtlein, a member of the U.S. Intercontinental Trade Commission; and Robert Holleyman, a former deputy U.S. Trade Representative in the Obama administration.
Other potential entrants named by trade experts and lobbyists include some from Congress:
U.S. Representative Jimmy Gomez, a California leftist who helped negotiate stronger labor provisions in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA); Beth Baltzan of the Open Markets League, a former lawyer with USTR and Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee who worked on legislation to secure overhauled aid for displaced workers; and Katherine Tai, the current trade counsel for House Ways and Means Democrats, who played a key role in mediating the USMCA changes and previously headed China trade enforcement at USTR.