Senate Unanimously Confirms Katherine Tai for U.S. Trade Rep

Updated March 17 at 11:45 a.m. PT.

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The Senate on Wednesday voted unanimously to approve the nomination of Katherine Tai to be U.S. Trade Representative.

Joe Biden appointed Katherine Tai to serve as United States Trade Representative (USTR) in his administration, alongside four other domestic nominees, on Friday, Dec. 11.

Tai, the first Asian American and first woman of color to serve in this capacity, accepted her appointment in a moving speech, reflecting on her childhood as the daughter of immigrants:

“Trade is like any other tool in our domestic or foreign policy. It is not an end in itself. It is a means to create more hope and opportunity for people. And it only succeeds when  the humanity and dignity of every American and of all people lie at the heart of our approach,” Tai said.

“I am proud to join with leaders who instill their policy with purpose and who never lose sight of the humanity and dignity, the opportunity and hope that make trade a force for good in our nation and the world. I am very proud to be an advocate for American workers, to stand up for their ingenuity and their innovation and for America’s interests across the globe.”

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As chief trade counsel, Tai formerly served as the House Ways and Means Committee’s chief lawyer. She previously held the titles of Associate General Counsel and Chief Counsel for China Trade Enforcement in the USTR’s Office of the General Counsel.

She was the first of her family to be born in America, and went on to attend Yale University and Harvard Law School. However, she also worked in Guangzhou, China teaching English in the late 90s, eventually becoming a Yale-China Fellow. Tai is deeply experienced in matters of U.S.-China trade relations, having litigated such disputes for the U.S. at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Upon her nomination in December, Tai recalled representing the U.S. in a lawsuit against China with a USTR colleague, who happened to be the daughter of South Indian immigrants. 

“Two daughters of immigrants, there to serve, to fight for and to reflect the nation that had opened doors of hope and opportunity to our families,” Tai said. “Those memories fill me with gratitude for being an American and for what America is at our best and they remind me of the extraordinary responsibilities that come with the honor as we navigate our relationships with the world.”

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Biden expressed confidence in his pick for the position, praising Tai’s pristine record in public service.

“[Tai] earned praise for both lawmakers and both political parties and from both labor and business as well. Now that’s a feat across the board,” Biden said. “But all kidding aside, I’ve gotten more calls complimenting me on your appointment than you can imagine.”

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Sophie Dorf-Kamienny is a junior at Tufts University studying sociology and community health. She is a Ms. contributing writer, and was formerly an editorial fellow, research fellow and assistant editor of social media. You can find her on Twitter at @sophie_dk_.