Thursday, April 25

Despite Trump’s opposition to TikTok ban, House moves forward with bill

Republican leaders in the House of Representatives are moving this week to pass a law that would force TikTok’s Chinese owners to sell the platform or face being banned in the United States, even after former President Donald J. Trump s He’s spoken out against targeting the popular social media app he once voted to ban.

Rep. Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana and majority leader, said Monday that the House would try to expedite passage of the bill under special procedures reserved for noncontroversial laws, which require a two-thirds majority to pass. adopted. The approach reflects the bill’s growing momentum on Capitol Hill during an election year in which members of both political parties are eager to demonstrate their willingness to be tough on China.

“We must ensure that the Chinese government cannot use TikTok as a weapon against American users and our government through data collection and propaganda,” Mr. Scalise said in his weekly overview of the legislation that will be considered in the House.

The 13-page bill is the product of the Chinese Communist Party Select Committee, which served as an island of bipartisanship in a polarized House. The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted unanimously last week in favor of the legislation, which would remove TikTok from app stores in the United States by September. 30 unless its Beijing-based parent company, ByteDance, sells its stake.

But Mr. Trump, who as president issued an executive order that did just that, has now reversed course and strongly opposes the bill, a move that will test his ability to continue rejecting the bipartisan legislation in Congress during the election campaign.

Mr. Trump on Monday offered a rambling explanation for his change of heart, saying he did not want to alienate young voters or give more power to Facebook, which he views as a mortal enemy.

In an interview on CNBC, Mr Trump said he still considered TikTok a threat to national security, but that banning it would drive young people “crazy”. He added that any action harming the platform would benefit Facebook, which he called the “enemy of the people.”

“Frankly, there are a lot of people on TikTok who love it,” Mr. Trump said. “There are a lot of young kids on TikTok who would go crazy without it.”

“There’s a lot of good and a lot of bad with TikTok,” he added, “but what I don’t like is that without TikTok you can make Facebook bigger, and I see Facebook as a enemy of people. , with numerous media.

It is not yet clear whether Mr. Trump’s turnaround on the issue will erode the bill’s broad base of support in the House, where a simmering fight over the bill has become tense. Many lawmakers were furious last week when TikTok sent its users flooding Congressional phone lines with calls imploring members not to shut down the platform.

“Trump’s about-face on TikTok puts House Republicans in a very difficult position because it forces them to choose between supporting Trump or standing up to China,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic strategist. “Voters on both sides of the aisle do not trust China to follow a meaningful set of rules and believe that China is determined to get away with whatever it can, and that would apply to China’s control over TikTok.”

The legislation is one of several efforts over the past year aimed at curtailing TikTok over concerns that ByteDance’s relationship with Beijing poses national security risks, and President Biden has said he would sign it. TikTok has been quick to respond to the attempted crackdown, and the company said its chief executive, Shou Chew, would be in Washington this week for planned meetings ahead of the House vote.

One of the bill’s co-sponsors is Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, the third-ranking Republican, whose name is on every shortlist to be Mr. Trump’s running mate and who is rarely caught disagreeing with the bill. ‘former president. .

As he heads toward the Republican nomination, Mr. Trump wields a heavier hand than at any time since he left office over his party’s agenda in Congress. His vocal opposition to pending legislation on TikTok comes just weeks after he used his influence with congressional Republicans to help defeat a bipartisan immigration bill in the Senate that was touted as an opportunity once-in-a-generation conservative border security bill.

But unlike the immigration issue, the two parties are not divided on TikTok; both see a political advantage in supporting policies that target China.

Still, Mr. Trump’s advocacy against the bill appears to be having some effect. Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said on “Meet the Press” that he was “really conflicted” about the ban. In 2020, Mr. Graham defended Mr. Trump’s executive action against the company, writing on social media that the president was “right to want to ensure that the Chinese Communist Party does not own TikTok and, more importantly again, all your private data.” .”

On Sunday, Mr. Graham said he did not yet know how he would vote on the bill if it went to the Senate. “I’m definitely conflicted,” he said.

And it’s unclear what the bill’s prospects would be in the Senate, where Sen. Chuck Schumer, New York Democrat and majority leader, has not committed to talking about it.

In a rare show of bipartisanship in the House, top Republican and Democratic lawmakers on the China panel used nearly identical language to describe TikTok’s risks.

“America’s chief adversary has no business controlling a dominant media platform in the United States,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, the Republican chairman. His Democratic counterpart, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, said TikTok “poses critical threats to our national security” while it is owned by ByteDance.

But after the bill passed a House committee last week, Mr. Trump lashed out at Truth Social, his social media platform, writing that “if you get rid of TikTok,” this will double Facebook’s business. He said he didn’t want Facebook to “do better.”

Mr. Trump was swept from Facebook the day after the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, and reinstated early last year.

To support his “enemy of the people” claim, Mr. Trump pointed to grants that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg gave in 2020 to state and local election offices to help them manage voting during the pandemic . Mr. Trump suggested that Mr. Zuckerberg, whose website was part of the Trump campaign strategy in 2016 and 2020, should face prison time for the donations.

On Monday, when asked about suspicions that he was “paid” to change his mind about TikTok after a meeting with a major TikTok investor, billionaire Jeff Yass, Mr. Trump denied it. Mr. Trump would have been congratulated Mr. Yass, a major donor to the Club for Growth, called him “fantastic,” and the group recently approached him after a year-long freeze.

Through the Club for Growth, Mr. Yass funded a major advocacy campaign in Washington to end the ban on TikTok. He and his allies have recruited several former Trump administration officials to help with their efforts, including Tony Sayegh, who was a Treasury official, and Kellyanne Conwaywho was a senior advisor to the president.

In the CNBC interview, Mr. Trump said he did not discuss TikTok with Mr. Yass during their meeting.

“No, I didn’t,” Mr. Trump said, saying it was a brief meeting with Mr. Yass and his wife. “He never mentioned TikTok.”

Mr. Trump’s criticism of the new legislation is striking because of his decision to restrict the business while in office. A decree I signed in August 2020 said TikTok’s collection of data from its users “threatens to give the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information.” He added that TikTok could be used to spread disinformation to benefit Beijing.

“These risks are real,” indicates the decree.

Mr. Trump’s administration moved to block Apple and Google’s app stores from offering TikTok due to concerns about the app’s Chinese ownership. But federal courts have repeatedly ruled to block Mr. Trump’s TikTok ban from taking effect.

David McCabe, Maggie Haberman And Sapna Maheshwari reports contributed.