Trump on collision course with Congress on ZTE

Trump on collision course with Congress on ZTE
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President TrumpDonald TrumpOhio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won't seek reelection Youngkin breaks with Trump on whether Democrats will cheat in the Virginia governor's race Trump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race 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 RubioOvernight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right GOP senators unveil bill designating Taliban as terrorist organization 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 BrownAdvocates call on top Democrats for 0B in housing investments Democratic senators request probe into Amazon's treatment of pregnant employees Wyden releases new tax proposals as Democrats work on .5T bill 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 GrahamTrump offers sympathy for those charged with Jan. 6 offenses Lindsey Graham: Police need 'to take a firm line' with Sept. 18 rally attendees Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod 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 ColeNew spotlight on secretaries of state as electoral battlegrounds Here's what Congress is reading at the beach this summer Overnight Health Care: FDA adds new warning to J&J COVID-19 vaccine | WHO chief pushes back on Pfizer booster shot | Fauci defends Biden's support for recommending vaccines 'one on one' 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) MoranIt's time for Congress to act before slow mail turns into no mail Kaine says he has votes to pass Iraq War repeal in Senate Seven-figure ad campaign urges GOP to support infrastructure bill MORE (R-Kan.). 

On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinMenendez, Rubio ask Yellen to probe meatpacker JBS The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Biden rallies Senate Dems behind mammoth spending plan Mnuchin dodges CNBC questions on whether Trump lying over election 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 PompeoChristie, Pompeo named co-chairs of GOP redistricting group America needs a new strategy for Pacific Island Countries Harris to hold fundraiser for McAuliffe ahead of Virginia governor's race 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 CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  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 MeadowsAllies see rising prospect of Trump 2024 White House bid The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US prepares vaccine booster plan House panel probing Jan. 6 attack seeks Trump records MORE (R-N.C.).

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