Administration works to assuage critics over ZTE deal
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Top administration officials are trying to quell backlash on Capitol Hill over a floated deal with Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE. 

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossOvernight Energy: Top presidential candidates to skip second climate forum | Group sues for info on 'attempts to politicize' NOAA | Trump allows use of oil reserve after Saudi attacks Group sues Trump administration for info related to 'attempts to politicize NOAA' NOAA chief praises agency scientists after statement backing up Trump tweet MORE met on Wednesday evening with a group of GOP senators. 

The lawmakers in the closed-door powwow included members of Senate GOP leadership and Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioTrump faces difficult balancing act with reelection campaign Republicans wary of US action on Iran California poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth MORE (R-Fla.), who has been an outspoken critic of a potential agreement.

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The meeting, according to Republican senators, was a chance for the administration to brief lawmakers on its feelings toward ZTE and China amid widespread skepticism. 

"I think they did a good job explaining why they took the actions they took, and explaining what actions they are now planning to take," said GOP Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia Trump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' MORE (R-Tenn.), who took part in the meeting. "We had no knowledge. Now I have knowledge."  

GOP Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet Trump administration floats background check proposal to Senate GOP MORE (R-Texas) added that, before the meeting, a "big concern was whether ZTE was being treated as a national security matter or just strictly as a trade issue that was kind of fungible in these trade agreements. … They assured us that the lanes were separate.”

Reuters and The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the United States and Beijing were close to an agreement to lift a ban on American companies selling components to ZTE. The Commerce Department imposed the ban and sanctions after ZTE violated U.S. sanctions by selling equipment to North Korea and Iran.

 Trump said on Tuesday that he had has not reached a deal with Beijing to help save ZTE, but added that he may ask for a fine of roughly $1.3 billion, new management for the telecom giant and for China to buy more American products.

Asked on Wednesday evening if the Trump administration would lift sanctions, Cornyn noted administration officials are still negotiating. Rubio separately told reporters that "I think they're considering alternatives." 

"You'll have to ask them if they're concerned. They're obviously here for a reason," Rubio added when asked if Mnuchin or Ross had voiced alarm over Congress's reaction to a potential deal. 

Senators made it clear after the closed-door meeting that congressional action, in some form, remains on the table. 

"I think they would prefer us not to act on it, but I think Congress is going to do what it needs to do," Rubio said. 

Cornyn added that a bill that includes language restricting the the ability of the Commerce Department to lift penalties against ZTE if they aren't following the law will be in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), an annual policy bill.

"It's been adopted in the NDAA and it will remain as part of the base bill," he said. "I expect it to be part of the NDAA."