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Trump on collision course with Congress on ZTE

Trump on collision course with Congress on ZTE
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpKey takeaways from the Arizona Senate debate Major Hollywood talent firm considering rejecting Saudi investment money: report Mattis says he thought 'nothing at all' about Trump saying he may leave administration 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.

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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 RubioDating app for Trump supporters leaked its users data on launch day: report Overnight Defense: Trump says 'rogue killers' could be behind missing journalist | Sends Pompeo to meet Saudi king | Saudis may claim Khashoggi killed by accident | Ex-VA chief talks White House 'chaos' | Most F-35s cleared for flight Democrats torch Trump for floating 'rogue killers' to blame for missing journalist 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 BrownOn The Money: Deficit hits six-year high of 9 billion | Yellen says Trump attacks threaten Fed | Affordable housing set for spotlight in 2020 race Lawmakers, Wall Street shrug off Trump's escalating Fed attacks The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Dem victories in `18 will not calm party turbulence 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 GrahamBrunson release spotlights the rot in Turkish politics and judiciary Saudi Arabia, Turkey to form joint investigation into Khashoggi disappearance Democrats must end mob rule 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 ColeGOP loads up lame-duck agenda as House control teeters Both sides digging in for post-midterm shutdown fight Conservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills 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) MoranSenate Republicans demand Google hand over memo advising it to hide data vulnerability Overnight Defense — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Missing journalist strains US-Saudi ties | Senators push Trump to open investigation | Trump speaks with Saudi officials | New questions over support for Saudi coalition in Yemen Senators demand answers on Trump administration backing of Saudi coalition in Yemen MORE (R-Kan.). 

On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinDC think tank declines Saudi money amid Khashoggi controversy US lobbying firms cut ties with Saudi Arabia On The Money: Deficit hits six-year high of 9 billion | Yellen says Trump attacks threaten Fed | Affordable housing set for spotlight in 2020 race 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 PompeoOvernight Defense: Trump says 'rogue killers' could be behind missing journalist | Sends Pompeo to meet Saudi king | Saudis may claim Khashoggi killed by accident | Ex-VA chief talks White House 'chaos' | Most F-35s cleared for flight GOP strategist says Trump is taking 'appropriate stance' with Saudi Arabia Saudi Embassy in DC cancels National Day celebration amid uproar over missing journalist 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 CorkerDemocrats torch Trump for floating 'rogue killers' to blame for missing journalist Trump to send Pompeo to meet Saudi king Trump defends 0B US arms sale to Saudi Arabia 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 MeadowsTrump makes new overtures to Democrats Fusion GPS co-founder will invoke 'constitutional rights not to testify': lawyers House panels postpone meeting with Rosenstein MORE (R-N.C.).

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