White House says ZTE penalty is tough enough

Of­fi­cials urge Congress not to over­turn deal


The White House warned Congress on Wed­nes­day not to over­turn Pres­i­dent Trump’s le­nient deal on Chinese tele­com firm ZTE, say­ing it would be a vi­o­la­tion of his pres­i­den­tial pow­ers.

Of­fi­cials are try­ing to head off what would be the first ma­jor leg­isla­tive re­buke for Mr. Trump, crit­i­ciz­ing sen­a­tors who agreed this week on leg­is­la­tion to reim­pose a death-sen­tence penalty on the Chinese com­pany by ban­ning it from ac­cess to U.S. mar­kets and prod­ucts.

White House deputy press sec­re­tary Ho­gan Gi­d­ley said Mr. Trump’s wa­tered-down penalty — a $1 bil­lion fine and a U.S.-im­posed over­sight board — is tough enough. And he warned that the pres­i­dent con­sid­ered the abil­ity to make these de­ci­sions with­out con­gres­sional in­put to be a core part of his pow­ers.

“The ad­min­is­tra­tion will work with Congress to en­sure the fi­nal [de­fense pol­icy bill] con­fer­ence re­port re­spects the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers,” Mr. Gi­d­ley said in a state­ment.

ZTE was caught vi­o­lat­ing sanc­tions on do­ing busi­ness with Iran and North Korea, was slapped with a fine, and promised to pun­ish the ex­ec­u­tives re­spon­si­ble. But in­stead of pun­ish­ing the ex­ec­u­tives, it re­warded them — spurring the new penal­ties.

Ini­tially the Com­merce De­part­ment de­liv­ered the death sen­tence penalty, ban­ning ZTE from ac­cess to Amer­i­can com­po­nents and ef­fec­tively de­stroy­ing its busi­ness model.

But Mr. Trump, as a per­sonal fa­vor to the Chinese govern­ment, stepped in and prod­ded his ad­min­is­tra­tion for le­niency. They re­duced the penalty to the $1 bil­lion fine and more over­sight.

Sen­a­tors span­ning the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum, in­clud­ing some of the pres­i­dent’s staunch­est de­fend­ers, are now re­sist­ing. They crafted lan­guage that would over­turn the fine and reim­pose the orig­i­nal penalty.

Not only did ZTE vi­o­late sanc­tions, they say, but its ties to the Chinese govern­ment make it a likely con­duit for es­pi­onage on the U.S.

Sen­a­tors wrote an amend­ment to re­in­state the orig­i­nal ZTE busi­ness ban and have at­tached it to the de­fense pol­icy bill, be­ing de­bated on the Se­nate floor this week.

A vote is likely to come Thurs­day, and all sides ex­pect it to pass. Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer tried to stiffen spines in the face of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s op­po­si­tion. “We can­not back off on an is­sue so vi­tal to Amer­ica’s na­tional and eco­nomic se­cu­rity,” he said.

Mr. Trump does have some de­fend­ers. Sen. David Per­due, Ge­or­gia Repub­li­can, tried to strike the ZTE pro­vi­sion from the bill Wed­nes­day, but he was blocked.

“We should not tie the hands of the ad­min­is­tra­tion,” Mr. Per­due said.

House law­mak­ers ap­proved their de­fense bill ear­lier this year, be­fore the ZTE is­sue arose, so it’s not part of their ver­sion.

The two bills will have to be rec­on­ciled, and the White House state­ment sig­naled Mr. Trump in­tends to weigh in at that point and try to delete the pun­ish­ment.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials say China earned some lee­way for its help in ne­go­ti­a­tions with North Korea over that coun­try’s nu­clear pro­gram.

The pres­i­dent’s for­eign poli­cies are in­creas­ingly be­ing tested on Capi­tol Hill.

Some law­mak­ers are push­ing leg­is­la­tion that would give Congress a chance to re­voke the new tar­iffs Mr. Trump im­posed on steel and alu­minum im­ports. And law­mak­ers floated ideas this week for how they might im­pose lim­its and con­di­tions on any deal the pres­i­dent reaches with North Korea.

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