Alexandra Alper and Karen Freifeld
WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – Republican Senator Tom Cotton holds off a vote on confirming Alan Estevez to be the U.S. Commerce Department’s undersecretary of industry and security. He wants answers to his difficult questions regarding technology exports from China.
Cotton asked Estevez in a October 14th letter to Reuters to make a promise to increase U.S. sanctions on the export of semiconductor technology and software to China, and to accelerate the introduction of new regulations to tighten control exports for advanced technologies.
This letter was also signed by Republican Senator Bill Hagerty. Estevez is asked to look into extending the Trump Administration’s rule to Chinese blacklisted firms that have links to military and human rights violations. The rule restricted Chinese telecoms giant Huawei’s access to semiconductor chips.
While the Commerce Department’s job oversees all exports, decisions regarding cutting-edge technology exports have been a major strength for Chinese businesses that depend on U.S. tech in recent years.
A request for comments was not received by the Department of Commerce immediately.
Estevez was a former Defense Department official who had a very limited record in China. Industry observers saw Estevez as a safer choice.
However, Cotton or any other senator can halt a quick-track confirmation process which requires the consent of all 100 senators.
The Republican nominee has not been allowed to be questioned by him so he’s putting off the confirmation until he hears the answers, according to a Cotton staffer.
Estevez’s nomination isn’t being supported only by Republicans. Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, a Democratic senator from Texas, voted against Estevez’s confirmation by the Senate Banking Committee. He also opposed expediting a full Senate vote.
The former Pentagon official who answered questions about returning oversight for U.S. firearm exports to State Department prompted his opposition.
Menendez released a statement saying that Mr. Estevez did not answer my questions about whether President Biden was going to keep his campaign promise of ending the dangerous transfer of control authority over U.S. gun sales from State Department’s Weapons List to Commerce Department.
Trump’s administration moved jurisdiction over exports of assault rifles and semiautomatic pistols to the Commerce Control List. This list is less restrictive than State, but it also removed congressional oversight.
Estevez is in good company. Others Biden nominees have been held back by Senator Ted Cruz. He is trying to stop a Russia–to-Germany pipeline from happening, White House officials, and Democrats in Congress claim.
Estevez gave evidence last month in front of the Senate banking committee. They later voted for Estevez’s motion to be advanced to the full Senate.
Hagerty questioned Estevez during the hearing. He stated that Huawei would remain on the blacklist unless “things improve.” Estevez also pledged to look at Honor (an ex-unit) to find out if Huawei was using Honor as a way to avoid its blacklist. Republican senators have urged the Biden administration not to list Honor.
The senators asked Estevez whether Estevez believed that the spread of Huawei Cloud Services worldwide posed a privacy and data security concern to the United States. They also requested whether Honor be added to the Commerce Department’s blacklist.
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