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Senate overwhelmingly backs defense measure, sending it to Trump

The Senate has approved a $716 billion defense authorization bill, sending it to President Trump.
The Senate has approved a $716 billion defense authorization bill, sending it to President Trump. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to pass a $716 billion defense authorization bill, sending the record-setting measure to President Trump while avoiding confrontational policy changes that would have angered him.

The 87-to-10 vote comes barely a week after the House passed the same measure, which negotiators agreed on after just a few weeks. In recent years, it has taken several months to iron out differences between the House and Senate’s versions of the giant defense bill.

During the process, Senate negotiators agreed to stand down on a provision that would have undone a deal the Trump administration struck with Chinese telecom giant ZTE to ease penalties that were imposed on the firm for doing business with Iran and North Korea.

The removal of that provision eased tensions with the White House but lost the bill the votes of at least one key figure in the Senate: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who argued on the Senate floor Wednesday that the threat ZTE poses to national security meant it was worth opposing the defense bill over the issue of the ZTE policy change.

“We have yet to realize what a significant threat China poses to this country,” Rubio said. “Until we do, we are going to continue to be in danger of surrendering and forfeiting our way of life . . . and we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.”

House passes annual defense bill, avoiding big policy clashes with Trump

The bill prohibits the federal government from using ZTE products, as well as those manufactured by Huawei, another Chinese telecom giant. It also makes changes to the authorities of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, that supporters say will be critical for blocking deals with companies that pose national security risks to the country.

The defense measure also includes a provision that lets the administration waive certain Russia-related sanctions that would have impeded the United States’ ability to sell defense-related products to countries whose militaries have historically been dependent on Russian-made products. Republicans in Congress, as well as the Trump administration, have argued that the change was a necessary one, to better wean those countries from Russia’s sphere of influence.

But the change comes at a time when a clamor for more punitive measures against Russia is rising. Bipartisan teams of lawmakers have come forward in recent weeks to propose legislation that would do everything from impose sanctions against Russia immediately, to establishing that the president cannot withdraw from NATO without the approval of two-thirds of the Senate.

The defense bill includes a reaffirmation of the United States’ commitment to NATO and establishes a new position on the National Security Council dedicated to countering Russian election interference.

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