Trump on collision course with Congress on ZTE

Trump on collision course with Congress on ZTE
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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 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 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.) 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 BrownTop Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure Schumer's moment to transform transit and deepen democracy Democrats ramp up pressure for infrastructure deal amid time crunch 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 GrahamGraham, Cuellar press Biden to name border czar Trump takes two punches from GOP The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands 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 ColeHere'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' HHS spending bill advances without Hyde Amendment 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: Bipartisan infrastructure pay-fors are insufficient This week: Democrats move forward with Jan. 6 probe Bipartisan senators ask CDC, TSA when they will update mask guidance for travelers MORE (R-Kan.). 

On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinThe 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 Democrats justified in filibustering GOP, says Schumer 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 PompeoNoem to travel to South Carolina for early voting event Poll: Trump leads 2024 GOP primary trailed by Pence, DeSantis Pence v. Biden on China: Competing but consistent visions 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 MeadowsTrump takes two punches from GOP Watchdog urges Justice to probe Trump, Meadows for attempting to 'weaponize' DOJ Washington Post calls on Democrats to subpoena Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Meadows for testimony on Jan. 6 MORE (R-N.C.).

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