The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday quietly rejected the Trump administration’s efforts to help restore the U.S. operations of the controversial Chinese tech megafirm, ZTE.
Lawmakers from both parties unanimously agreed to include in an appropriations bill a provision that would uphold sanctions against the Chinese phone-maker, just days after President Donald Trump revealed in a tweet that he has directed his administration to help put the company “back in business.”
“They’re widely suspected of spying for the U.S. government. We cannot allow [ZTE] to infiltrate U.S. networks or give them access to the U.S. markets while they continue to be beholden to their government,” Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), who drafted the language, said during the committee markup.
The language was added to a relatively uncontroversial House spending bill, which funds the Commerce Department, among other agencies. The rare bipartisan amendment was approved in a voice vote, with backing from the GOP subcommittee chairman, Texas Republican Rep. John Culberson.
American companies are currently barred from buying or selling ZTE products, after the megafirm willfully violated an international accord by doing business with Iran and North Korea.
Since then, the Chinese company — which is closely tied to the government — has struggled financially.
ZTE has hurtled into the spotlight after Trump tweeted criticism of his Commerce Department’s recent decision to block ZTE from accessing U.S. technology.
“President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!” Trump wrote.
Trump's statement flew in the face of years of warnings by Republicans and Democrats over the potential for ZTE and another Chinese telecom company, Huawei, which produce phones as well as network equipment for the U.S. market, to facilitate cyber espionage.
Trump again brought up the embattled tech firm during a Thursday afternoon meeting on trade with China.
He acknowledged that ZTE "did very bad things to our country. They did a lot of bad things to our economy.” But he added that the firm would buy from U.S. suppliers, according to a pool report.
The comment has drawn fierce rebukes from Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, who argue that Chinese telecom companies spy on Americans and steal intellectual property.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) warned on the Senate floor this week that the Trump administration was "being tricked into this apparent deal that someone's cooking up over there."
"They play our system against us,” Rubio said.