Republicans Demand Hold on Biden Commerce Pick Over Huawei Concerns

Raimondo won’t commit to keeping Chinese tech giant on U.S. Entity List

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo / Getty Images
February 2, 2021

Leading House Republicans are calling for a hold on the Biden administration’s nominee to lead the Commerce Department, citing her refusal to commit to keeping Chinese telecom giant Huawei on the U.S. Entity List as a result of its global spy operations.

Gina Raimondo, Rhode Island’s Democratic governor and President Joe Biden's commerce nominee, drew scrutiny earlier this month when she declined during her confirmation hearing to answer questions about how the administration will approach Huawei, the top Chinese telecom company that is suspected of helping the Communist Party spy on users across the world. Huawei was put on the Commerce Department’s Entity List in 2019, restricting its access to U.S. technology that could be used to fuel Beijing’s spy operations.

"The fact that the Biden administration has still refused to commit to keeping Huawei on the Department of Commerce’s Entity List is incredibly alarming and dangerous," a group of 21 lawmakers led by Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas) said in a Tuesday joint statement that called for a hold on Raimondo's Wednesday confirmation vote. "There have been repeated, bipartisan calls to keep Huawei on the Entity List in the past, with members on both sides of the aisle referring to the company as a national security threat."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki also declined on two separate occasions last week to say whether Huawei will remain on the Entity List, heightening concerns the Biden administration could drop the designation in a bid to appease China.

Three Republican senators—Marco Rubio (Fla.), Tom Cotton (Ark.), and Ben Sasse (Neb.)—demanded in a letter last week that Raimondo clarify her views on Huawei, hinting that they could put the nomination on hold if answers are not provided by the administration. Senate rules allow all members to place a hold on a vote for any reason. Senate Democrats, however, do not need any Republican votes to confirm Raimondo if her nomination comes to the floor.

The U.S. crackdown on Huawei garnered bipartisan support during the Trump administration, but it is unclear if Democrats will support a hold on a Biden nominee.  If Huawei is removed from the Entity List, it will once again be able to tap into sensitive U.S. technology, which remains a priority for the Communist government.

The representatives calling for a hold on the nomination—including Mike Rogers (R., Ala.), Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.), Joe Wilson (R., S.C.), and Steve Chabot (R., Ohio), among others—described the Huawei designation as a "threshold issue" for how Raimondo and the Biden Commerce Department will approach national security issues stemming from China’s public and private surveillance on citizens across the world. Huawei was identified by the U.S. Defense Department as having deep ties to China’s military. The company also has been accused of helping Beijing perpetuate crimes against its minority populations through surveillance and other tracking methods. Technology experts have also warned that Huawei products grant the Chinese government a so-called back door into any users’ devices.

"We urge those senators who have a history of calling for Huawei to remain on the Entity List to stick to their principles and place a hold on Ms. Raimondo’s confirmation until the Biden administration clarifies their intentions for Huawei and on export control policies for a country that is carrying out genocide and threatening our national security," the lawmakers said in a joint statement.

The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, a massive defense spending bill that was passed with bipartisan backing, included a section meant to ensure Huawei is not removed from the Entity List until the executive branch deems it does not pose a national security threat.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) has also expressed a willingness to place a hold on Raimondo’s nomination, telling the Washington Free Beacon through a spokesman that the senator was "deeply concerned by commerce secretary nominee Raimondo’s comments" and "all options remain on the table."