President Donald Trump warned the lawmakers that his reprieve for the company was part of a broader geopolitical negotiating strategy.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump urged Republican lawmakers on Wednesday not to scuttle his administration’s efforts to help the Chinese telecom firm ZTE, warning them that his reprieve for the company was part of a broader geopolitical negotiating strategy.
Trump and Republican lawmakers met at the White House to discuss the fate of the company, which had been banned by the Commerce Department from buying U.S. products this year as punishment for violating U.S. sanctions. The administration has since lifted that ban at Trump’s request and over the objections of lawmakers, who voted Monday to reinstate the penalties on ZTE.
Trump ordered his Commerce Department to water down the penalties, which would have put ZTE out of business, after President Xi Jinping of China personally lobbied him to reconsider. The deal helped defuse tensions with Xi, whom the president has relied on to help pave the way for discussions with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un. China and the United States are also locked in a contentious dispute over trade, with both countries threatening tariffs on billions of dollars of each other’s goods.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, suggested Wednesday that lawmakers would be willing to compromise with the president to avoid undercutting his leverage in talks with China and North Korea. The ZTE penalty was tucked into a large military policy bill that passed this week in the Senate and still must be reconciled with the House bill, which did not include the penalty. That gives lawmakers and the White House a chance to either jettison the penalty or make it more palatable to Beijing.
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“I’m pretty optimistic we’ll be able to come up with something that preserves the president’s leverage,” Cornyn said after the meeting.