Trump on collision course with Congress on ZTE

Trump on collision course with Congress on ZTE
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhite House counsel called Trump 'King Kong' behind his back: report Trump stays out of Arizona's ugly and costly GOP fight Trump claims he instructed White House counsel to cooperate with Mueller MORE is on a collision course with Congress on ZTE, the Chinese telecommunications giant sanctioned for doing business with Iran and North Korea.

Trump has publicly signaled his desire to ease the restrictions on ZTE as he seeks China's cooperation on North Korea talks and hammering out a trade deal.

But Trump’s pivot on ZTE has received terrible reviews from Republicans in Congress, who have joined with Democrats in passing measures to ensure the restrictions are kept in place.


The Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday approved an amendment to a spending bill that would tie the administration’s hands on the matter.

U.S. intelligence has raised concerns that the Chinese government was using ZTE to compromise American telecommunications networks, and potentially spy on Americans. 

The company was also found to have violated U.S. sanctions, selling banned components to Iran and North Korea. Earlier this year, the Commerce Department nearly felled the company with tough fines and restrictions, which the Financial Times has estimated already cost ZTE upwards of $2 billion.

Trump’s apparent willingness to compromise on the fate of the company has led to an uproar in Congress.

In an impassioned speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP looks to injure Nelson over Russia comments Rubio’s pro-family, conservative family leave policy promotes stability Dems make history in Tuesday's primaries MORE (R-Fla.) urged the administration to take the long view in its approach to China.

He called reported concessions to China “a terrible deal” and warned that China’s theft of intellectual property from U.S. companies was a more serious issue than the bilateral trade deficit.

“That is the right thing to do for the future of this country, not some short-term deal that makes us feel good and potentially gets you a positive headline in the short-term, but that historians will condemn as the beginning of the end of America’s place in the world as its most influential nation,” Rubio said.

Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s GOP feuds dominate ahead of midterms Dustbin 2020: The best Dems who surely won’t get the nomination Vulnerable Dems side with Warren in battle over consumer bureau MORE (D-Ohio), the ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, said: “Republicans and Democrats alike think it’s outrageous that the president cut a deal with a Chinese company that flouts international laws and lies to the United States.”

On Tuesday, Trump told reporters that he was considering steps that would allow U.S. companies to sell to the ZTE, while imposing a $1.3 billion fine on the company. The steps would also require tighter security rules, a Chinese commitment to buying more American components and new management for the firm.

Some critics on Capitol Hill have called for advancing legislation that would limit Trump’s ability to lift sanctions on ZTE.

“I would vote for that,” said Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate gets to work in August — but many don’t show up Graham: Flynn should lose security clearance Press needs to restore its credibility on the FBI and Justice Department MORE (R-S.C.). “I’m all for the president making a deal with China, but I don’t like the ZTE part.”

Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeTrump faces long odds in avoiding big spending bill Paul Ryan would be ‘perfect fit’ to lead AEI, Republicans say This week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation MORE (R-Okla.), an appropriator, drew a comparison to a tough package of sanctions against Russia that Congress passed last year in an attempt to force the administration’s hand on an issue.

“I think there’s just a strong concern here on the security front. Look, the same way with Russian sanctions, I think probably Congress is a little more hawkish than the president,” he said.

The Senate Banking Committee, along with a separate committee in the House, has approved bills limiting Trump’s ability to lift sanctions, but they aren't likely to advance quickly.

Some in Congress, however, say the actions served as a warning to keep the administration in line.

“What I hope happens is an honest dialogue and understanding of what the administration’s strategy is,” said Sen. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranTougher Russia sanctions face skepticism from Senate Republicans Farm groups fear Trump aid won’t fix trade damage GOP senator: Trump said he never heard of anyone who didn’t want a payment from the government MORE (R-Kan.). 

On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinTurkish president blasts ‘economic coup’ amid heightened tensions with US Overnight Defense: Trump cancels military parade, blames DC for cost | DC mayor hits back | Pentagon warns China 'likely' training for strikes against US | Turkey refuses to release US pastor On The Money: Trump asks SEC to consider ditching quarterly reports | Turkish court refuses to release US pastor | Russia sanctions hearing, vote on consumer chief next week MORE testified that the administration was taking national security issues into concern as it explored ways to ease the sanctions on ZTE.

“The objective was not to put ZTE out of business, the objective was to make sure they abide by our sanctions programs,” he said.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump: ‘Nothing bad can happen' from meeting with foreign leaders The US must not turn its back on refugees Taiwan is key to US power in Pacific MORE echoed that sentiment in his own testimony on Wednesday.

“We're going to reduce the risk from ZTE to America. It's still under review, what's taking place,” he said.

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSen. Warner to introduce amendment limiting Trump’s ability to revoke security clearances White House weighs clawing back State, foreign aid funding Rand Paul to ask Trump to lift sanctions on Russian leaders MORE (R-Tenn.) told The Hill the administration was sending representatives to Congress Thursday to explain the steps they were considering on ZTE.

Trump allies are hoping the administration will act deliberately on the matter and put off any big announcements on ZTE.

“ZTE, the whole telecom aspect of China, is probably one I feel like needs to be put on a back burner while we negotiate other trade-related items,” said Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsHill.TV poll: Majority of Republicans say Trump best represents the values of the GOP Meadows says FBI made 'right' decision firing Strzok Republicans have spent .5 million at Trump properties since he took office: report MORE (R-N.C.).

“I think it takes too much of a focus on that one issue,” he added.