Trump on collision course with Congress on ZTE

Trump on collision course with Congress on ZTE
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President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump State Department appointee arrested in connection with Capitol riot Intelligence community investigating links between lawmakers, Capitol rioters Michelle Obama slams 'partisan actions' to 'curtail access to ballot box' 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 RubioHillicon Valley: YouTube to restore Trump's account | House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference | Senators introduce legislation to create international tech partnerships Senators introduce bill creating technology partnerships to compete with China DeSantis's rising GOP profile fuels 2024 talk 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 BrownMandel gets Club for Growth nod in Ohio Senate primary Bipartisan bill would ban lawmakers from buying, selling stocks Mellman: How the Senate decided impeachment 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 GrahamRon Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many Here's who Biden is now considering for budget chief House Democratic leaders back Shalanda Young for OMB after Tanden withdrawal 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 ColeDemocratic women sound alarm on female unemployment House votes to kick Greene off committees over embrace of conspiracy theories LIVE COVERAGE: House debates removing Greene from committees 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) MoranGraham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden vs. Trump, part II Passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy MORE (R-Kan.). 

On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinBiden cautious in making Trump tax returns decision Biden brings back bipartisan meetings at the White House On The Money: Schumer urges Democrats to stick together on .9T bill | Collins rules out GOP support for Biden relief plan | Powell fights inflation fears 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 PompeoMike PompeoPompeo not ruling out 2024 White House bid Houthis: US sanctions prolonging war in Yemen China plays the Trump card, but Biden is not buying it 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 CorkerIt's time for Biden's Cuba GOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics Former GOP senator: Republicans cannot let Trump's 'reckless' post-election claims stand 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 MeadowsHow scientists saved Trump's FDA from politics Liberals howl after Democrats cave on witnesses Kinzinger calls for people with info on Trump to come forward MORE (R-N.C.).

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