Senators strike deal to include ZTE penalties in must-pass defense bill
© Greg Nash

Senators announced Monday that legislation keeping in place penalties against Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE will be included in a must-pass defense policy bill.

“By including this provision to undo the ZTE deal in the defense bill, the Senate is saying loudly and in a bipartisan fashion that the president is dead wrong to back off on ZTE," Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerAn August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done Biden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Schumer's moment to transform transit and deepen democracy MORE (D-N.Y.), a supporter of the amendment, said in a statement. 

The amendment keeping in place penalties against ZTE is expected to be added to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), an annual defense policy bill that the Senate is poised to pass as soon as this week. 

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The amendment would also ban government agencies from buying or leasing telecommunications equipment and services from Chinese telecom firms Huawei and ZTE and ban the government from providing loans to or subsidizing either company.

The provision still needs to survive a conference with the House, which passed its own defense bill. If it's in the final bill it could provoke a showdown with President TrumpDonald TrumpMeghan McCain: Democrats 'should give a little credit' to Trump for COVID-19 vaccine Trump testing czar warns lockdowns may be on table if people don't get vaccinated Overnight Health Care: CDC details Massachusetts outbreak that sparked mask update | White House says national vaccine mandate 'not under consideration at this time' MORE, who needs to sign the must-pass defense policy bill. 

The Trump administration announced late last week that it had reached a deal to lift penalties against the company in exchange for ZTE paying a $1 billion fine and embedding a U.S.-selected compliance team in the firm. 

But talk of a deal to save ZTE has sparked bipartisan backlash on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers have been frustrated with the administration's efforts. 

Schumer said earlier on Monday that the agreement was as "weak as a wet noodle" and argued the administration had been "outmaneuvered" in the agreement.

Schumer, as well as Sens. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenSenate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Civil rights activist Gloria Richardson dies Senate Democrats hit speedbumps with big spending plans MORE (D-Md.), Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonChuck Todd is dead wrong: Liberal bias defines modern journalism Ex-Rep. Abby Finkenauer running for Senate in Iowa Poll: Trump leads 2024 GOP primary trailed by Pence, DeSantis MORE (R-Ark.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioBreak glass in case of emergency — but not for climate change Democrats join GOP in pressuring Biden over China, virus origins Senators introduce bipartisan bill to expand foreign aid partnerships MORE (R-Fla.), filed the amendment last week to the NDAA to restore the Commerce Department’s penalties on ZTE for violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea.

“ZTE has repeatedly violated U.S. law and represents a threat to our national security – Congress cannot and will not allow the Administration to let ZTE off the hook in the interest of Chinese jobs," Van Hollen said in a statement.

“The threat Huawei and ZTE pose to our national security is too great to ignore. This amendment will help keep Americans' private information out of the hands of the Chinese Communist Party, and I’m pleased it will be included in the NDAA,” Cotton added.

Senators have been privately discussing adding the bipartisan proposal into the NDAA. 

Rubio told reporters earlier on Monday that he expected it to be included, while GOP Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate votes to take up infrastructure deal Biden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on Eight Republicans join Democrats to confirm head of DOJ environmental division MORE (Texas) cautioned that talks were ongoing but no final decision had been made. 

Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossChina sanctions Wilbur Ross, others after US warns of doing business in Hong Kong DOJ won't prosecute Wilbur Ross after watchdog found he gave false testimony Commerce Department unit gathered intel on employees, census critics: report MORE is meeting with senators on Monday evening to walk them through the details of the agreement.