Some have also questioned how much influence Ms. Tai might have on matters like China and tariffs, given that she is a relative newcomer to the administration. Mr. Biden has appointed several old contacts to his foreign policy team who have worked closely with him for years, including Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken; Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser; and Kurt Campbell, the top U.S. diplomat for Asia.
But Ms. Tai’s supporters say she will probably be an influential voice on trade given her deep expertise and understanding of trade policy. If confirmed, Ms. Tai would be the first Asian-American and woman of color to serve as the U.S. trade representative. Ms. Tai’s parents were born in China and moved to Taiwan before immigrating to the United States, where they worked as government scientists.
Ms. Tai, who was born in Connecticut, speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese and lived and worked in China as a teaching fellow in the late 1990s. She received a B.A. from Yale and a law degree from Harvard, and went on to work as an associate for several Washington law firms and a clerk for two district judges.
From 2007 to 2014, Ms. Tai worked for the Office of the United States Trade Representative, where she successfully prosecuted several cases on Chinese trade practices at the World Trade Organization, including a challenge to China’s curbs on exports of rare earth minerals.
When she was hired, the office was in the middle of trying to parse a particular Chinese legal measure and gave it to Ms. Tai to translate as part of her interview, said Claire Reade, a former assistant trade representative for China affairs who is now a senior counsel at Arnold & Porter. “We got a second expert opinion free of charge,” she said.
In the Obama administration, and in her work negotiating a consensus on the North American trade deal, Ms. Tai displayed a range of skills that will help her succeed as the trade representative, Ms. Reade said — leadership and initiative, the political and diplomatic skills to navigate the interagency process of government, a good instinct for reading people and a wide grasp of complex trade matters.
“She really in her work has gone through hellfire and has come out the other side — which means, as I say, she’s not to be underestimated,” Ms. Reade said.