House GOP pushes Senate to pause Biden Commerce pick over lack of clarity on Huawei

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A group of nearly two dozen Republican congressmen called on the Senate to hit the pause button on President Biden’s nominee for commerce secretary over her lack of a promise to keep Chinese Communist Party-linked telecom giant Huawei on the U.S. trade blacklist after the Trump administration deemed it a national security threat.

Gina Raimondo, the Democratic governor of Rhode Island, often took a strong rhetorical stance on China throughout her confirmation hearing Jan. 26 but would not guarantee that Huawei would remain on the Commerce Department’s “entities list” — and the Biden administration hasn’t publicly provided such a promise ahead of her scheduled Wednesday committee vote.

Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on House Foreign Affairs, wrote a letter to the Senate with 20 fellow representatives, asking for the nomination to be held up until the Biden administration explains its export control policies on China.

“The fact that the Biden Administration has still refused to commit to keeping Huawei on the Department of Commerce’s Entity List is incredibly alarming and dangerous. There have been repeated, bipartisan calls to keep Huawei on the Entity List in the past, with Members on both sides of the aisle referring to the company as a national security threat,” the House GOP group said. “We urge those Senators who have a history of calling for Huawei to remain on the Entity List to stick to their principles and place a hold on Ms. Raimondo’s confirmation until the Biden Administration clarifies their intentions for Huawei and on export control policies for a country that is carrying out genocide and threatening our national security.”

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz noted Jan. 26 that a number of Chinese companies, including Huawei, had been added to the entities list, in part for their alleged role in China’s surveillance of its Uighur Muslim population, and asked Raimondo if she would commit to keeping those companies on the blacklist.

When pressed about Huawei, she said, “I will review the policy, consult with you, consult with industry, consult with our allies, and make an assessment as to what’s best for American national and economic security.”

Raimondo did say later in her testimony that she would use the “full tool kit at my disposal to the fullest extent possible to protect Americans and our network from Chinese interference or any kind of backdoor influence into our network” — naming Huawei as a concern.

The Tuesday letter to the Senate included a one-page Huawei fact sheet, arguing that “Huawei’s Entity Listing is a threshold question for how the Department of Commerce will approach our most complex and consequential national security challenge — keeping our sensitive technology from bad actors that aim to harm American national security and foreign policy interests.” Huawei is a national security threat, a criminal enterprise, complicit in human rights abuses, and potential spyware, it argued.

The House letter also pointed out that both Republican and Democratic senators were vocal about keeping Huawei on the blacklist after former President Donald Trump considered letting the company off of it — and highlighted a number of Democrats who criticized Trump over thinking about it.

Now-Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer accused Trump of “backing down again on China” in June 2019, arguing that “Huawei is one of few potent levers we have to make China play fair on trade.”

Incoming Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner said in July 2019 that “we need to remember that Huawei represents a threat to our national security” and “if the President’s deal goes too far, Congress would certainly act to reverse it.”

Upcoming Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden said in January that “letting a national security threat like Huawei off the hook sends China exactly the wrong message.”

The Biden pick is likely to face at least some resistance in the Senate, with Republican Sens. Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, and Ben Sasse sending her a letter Friday urging clarity because Huawei “has a long track record of economic espionage, supporting human rights abuses in the PRC and elsewhere, and supporting the regime’s capture of foreign political elites,” and it “has not changed alongside the U.S. presidency.”

The Commerce Department explained in December 2020 that Huawei was added to the entity list in May 2019 because the company and its affiliates “engaged in activities that are contrary to U.S. national security or foreign policy interests.” The Bureau of Industry and Security amended its foreign-produced direct product rule in May 2020 to “target Huawei’s acquisition of semiconductors that are the direct product of certain U.S. software and technology” and in August 2020 announced even broader restrictions.

The Trump administration engaged in a broad effort to limit Huawei’s global reach, especially in the area of fifth-generation wireless, pushing its “Five Eyes” international partners to reject Huawei technology.

The Justice Department charged the Chinese telecommunications giant with racketeering and conspiracy to steal trade secrets worldwide, and in June 2020, the Defense Department released a list of companies operating in the United States that the Pentagon believes are tied to the Chinese military — including Huawei.

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