- The Washington Times - Monday, June 11, 2018

The Senate appears poised to take the first major step to rein in President Trump’s trade policies, after senators struck a deal Monday on a measure that would block his plans for dealing with Chinese telecom firm ZTE.

Under orders from Mr. Trump, the Commerce Department last week weakened penalties on ZTE, reducing a near-death sentence to a $1 billion fine and continued oversight.

The move enraged Republicans and Democrats who said ZTE not only worked with Iran and North Korea in violation of U.S. sanctions, but is a threat to national security, offering Chinese intelligence operatives a way to spy on the U.S. through ZTE products.

Senators proposed a rollback and announced Monday that this will be included as part of the new defense policy bill the chamber began debating.

“The Senate is saying loudly and in a bipartisan fashion that the president is dead wrong to back off on ZTE,” said Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

He said the speed of the pushback, and the striking bipartisan coalition — chief sponsors include Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a conservative Republican, and Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, a liberal Democrat — shows how determined Congress is to block Mr. Trump.

The ZTE provision was included as part of a non-controversial “manager’s package” of changes, which is likely to be easily approved. Then the full bill will have to pass, and be merged with a version that passed the House earlier this year.

Then, if the ZTE rollback is still in, it will become a major challenge to Mr. Trump, who personally stepped in as a favor to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The White House didn’t respond Monday evening to a request for comment on the Senate’s pushback.

ZTE was first fined by the U.S. government for violating the Iran and North Korea sanctions. But after the U.S. government determined the company lied about its clean-up efforts, the Commerce Department imposed the death sentence, banning U.S. businesses from selling parts to ZTE, effectively kneecapping the company.

After Mr. Trump stepped in, the Commerce Department changed its mind and ordered the $1 billion fine, and said the U.S. would send a compliance team to oversee the company’s operations.

The administration said it was still a stiff penalty, describing it as the largest sanctions settlement in history.

Lawmakers said they were shocked Mr. Trump was going soft, after all the tough talk of cracking down on China during the presidential campaign.

They were even more surprised that the leniency came on ZTE.

“The Chinese government uses these companies for espionage and intellectual property theft, posing a direct threat to our national security and endangering the American people and our economy,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican and a co-sponsor of the legislation.

The ZTE leniency also rubbed senators wrong since it came about the same time the president slapped tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from U.S. allies including Canada and the European Union.

Senators are looking to rein in those tariffs in the defense bill, too.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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