Senate panel clears bill to bolster probes of foreign investment deals

Senate panel clears bill to bolster probes of foreign investment deals
© Greg Nash

The Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday approved a bill to give a secretive federal agency expanded powers to probe foreign acquisitions of American businesses that could pose threats to national security.

The panel voted unanimously to advance a bill to bolster the authority of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS), a panel housed by the Treasury Department that reviews attempts by foreign businesses to control U.S. firms.

The bill, introduced by Sens. John CornynJohn CornynGOP put on the back foot by Trump's race storm GOP struggles to find backup plan for avoiding debt default Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (R-Texas) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinThe peculiar priorities of Adam Schiff Dem senators demand GOP judicial group discloses donors Senate Democrats skipping Pence's border trip MORE (D-Calif.), seeks to widen the types of business deals subject to CFIUS approval and mirrors a measure introduced by Rep. Robert PittengerRobert Miller PittengerBottom Line North Carolina reporter says there could be 'new crop' of GOP candidates in 9th Congressional District race North Carolina board calls for new election in contested House race MORE (R-N.C.) in the House.

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The House Financial Services Committee had also been reviewing its version of the bill Tuesday and is expected to vote to clear the measure later this afternoon. 

Congress could pass the bill with broad bipartisan support, after addressing concerns from U.S. businesses that say the bill could create unnecessary and redundant restrictions.

The push to boost the powers of CFIUS comes as President TrumpDonald John TrumpEsper sidesteps question on whether he aligns more with Mattis or Trump Warren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' As tensions escalate, US must intensify pressure on Iran and the IAEA MORE and Congress seek to foil attempts by China to dominate key technology industries essential to U.S. defense and infrastructure.

The Banking Committee cleared the bill after scrapping a provision that would subject joint ventures between U.S. and foreign businesses to CFIUS review.

The amended bill would create an interagency process for identifying critical emerging technologies and intellectual property not yet subject to export control. The changes would also set up another interagency process led by the Commerce Department focused on the ways sensitive material can end up in foreign hands.

Banking panel members also approved an amendment to rebuke Trump's efforts to loosen sanctions on Chinese telecom firm ZTE, which the intelligence community and trade regulators consider a threat to U.S. national security.

The committee amended the bill on a 23-2 vote to block Trump from easing sanctions on ZTE without first certifying to Congress that the company is complying with U.S. law. The Commerce Department had barred U.S. businesses from selling to ZTE last month after it found that the firm lied to investigators probing its business with Iran and North Korea, violating U.S. sanctions on the countries.

Trump had floated easing national security-based sanctions on ZTE amid trade talks with China, a move that invoked bipartisan concern in Congress.

The president tweeted earlier this month that he wants to come up with a way to help the company in order to save Chinese jobs. Lawmakers urged Trump to reconsider aiding a firm considered to be a national security threat to boost the economy of a major geopolitical rival.