Administration works to assuage critics over ZTE deal
© Getty Images

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 RossSupreme Court blocks ruling that mandated Ross deposition on census citizenship question NAFTA 2.0's 'poison pill' is a needed dose of trade medicine Census citizenship question will help voting rights enforcement 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 RubioCongress raises pressure on Saudi Arabia Rubio: Khashoggi killing was ‘disrespectful to Trump’ O'Rourke's rise raises hopes for Texas Dems down ballot MORE (R-Fla.), who has been an outspoken critic of a potential agreement.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 CorkerCongress raises pressure on Saudi Arabia GOP-affiliated voters outperforming Democrats in key states’ early voting: report The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump says he is cutting foreign aid over caravan | Lawmakers point fingers at Saudi crown prince | DNC chair downplays 'blue wave' talk MORE (R-Tenn.), who took part in the meeting. "We had no knowledge. Now I have knowledge."  

GOP Sen. John CornynJohn CornynManchin wrestles with progressive backlash in West Virginia O'Rourke's rise raises hopes for Texas Dems down ballot Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke debate showdown 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."