WHITE HOUSE - U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo pledged Wednesday to continue the Trump administration's aggressive trade war with China, saying she will work "as aggressively as possible to protect American workers and businesses from unfair Chinese practices."
Speaking during a White House press briefing, Raimondo said tariffs imposed during the Donald Trump presidency - and widely decried by Democrats at the time - "have in fact helped save American jobs in steel and aluminum industries."
Overall, the United States is maintaining tariffs on 66% of Chinese exports. Raimondo said those import taxes are needed to level the playing field for international trade.
"China's actions are uncompetitive, coercive, underhanded. They've proven they'll do whatever it takes," she said. "And so, I plan to use all the tools in my toolbox as aggressively as possible to protect American workers and businesses from unfair Chinese practices."
Three years ago, Trump levied 25% tariffs on imported steel and 10% on imported aluminum from most countries, contending it was a matter of national security to ensure domestic production of the metals could survive.
The U.S. goods deficit with China grew 11.4% from January to $30.3 billion in February, according to statistics released by the Commerce Department on Wednesday.
A Pew Research Center survey taken last year found that nearly nine out of 10 adults in the U.S. consider China a competitor or enemy, rather than a partner.
Americans, according to the poll, have grown increasingly concerned about China's technological power, its cyberattacks on the West, its lack of respect for human rights, and U.S. job losses blamed on Chinese imports.
Biden has made creating infrastructure jobs a priority of his administration, a topic he addressed Wednesday afternoon at the White House, contending China and others are racing ahead of the United States "attempting to own the future."
Biden wants lawmakers to approve his plan to invest $2 trillion this decade to create millions of jobs.
Republicans in Congress say it is too broad and that much of it has nothing to do with traditional infrastructure, such as improving passenger train service, modernizing airports and fixing old highways and bridges. The opposition party is also at odds with the Democratic Party leadership on how to pay for the plan, opposing an increase in the corporate tax rate.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday he is "hopeful that not every single Democrat" will back Biden's infrastructure bill, and centrists in the governing party "will have some skepticism about this massive growth of government."
The president contends that to effectively outcompete China, hundreds of billions of dollars must also be spent on modernizing schools, eliminating lead in water pipes, building a cross-country network of charging stations for electric vehicles, expanding broadband internet access and boosting domestic semiconductor manufacturing.
"Do you think China is waiting around to invest in this digital infrastructure on research and development? I promise you, they are not waiting. But they're counting on American democracy to be too slow, too limited and too divided to keep pace," Biden said.
China is the world's second-largest economy but is forecast to surpass the United States later this decade or in the early 2030s.