President Trump speaks while Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross listens. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Trump administration's $1 billion penalty deal with Chinese telecom giant ZTE — which has repeatedly violated U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea and is seen by the Pentagon as a threat to national security — has some in Congress fuming.

Why it matters: President Trump has consistently promised to be a hardliner on China, but several lawmakers from both sides of the aisle argue the administration's willingness to cut a deal with ZTE shows a flagrant disregard of the advice given by Trump's intelligence and defense officials in return for an on-again, off-again pursuit of a trade deal with China.

Be smart: Lawmakers also worry the deal points to a larger concern — that Trump's tough talk on global trade is simply tough talk, and that his true actions show he's easily convinced to back down at the first sign he can cut a deal and tout it as a political win.

What they're saying
  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL): "I assure you with 100% confidence that #ZTE is a much greater national security threat than steel from Argentina or Europe. #VeryBadDeal"
  • Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA): "I’m sure ZTE makes a fine cell phone, but they’re a little too close to the Communist Party of China for my tastes."
  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY): "@realDonaldTrump should be aiming his trade fire at China, but instead he inexplicably aims it at allies like Canada, Mexico and Europe. When it comes to China, despite his tough talk, this deal with ZTE proves the president just shoots blanks."
  • Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR): 'The Trump administration is giving ZTE and China the green light to spy on Americans and sell our technology to North Korea and Iran ... The only question is whether this was the price of Ivanka’s trademarks".
  • Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA): "Is the President so desperate for a deal — any deal — that he is willing to put Chinese jobs ahead of our national security".
  • Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA): "[U]nless the Trump Administration plans to open an FBI counter-intel field office inside the company, Beijing is about to get one heck of a deal on a backdoor into US telecom networks."
  • Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ): "The Trump #ChinaFirst policy strikes again. Cuts a deal with ZTE to save Chinese jobs and gets nothing for our economy ... He’s tougher on Canada than he is on Chinese currency manipulation".

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