Thursday, April 25

House passes bill to force sale of TikTok to Chinese owner or ban app

The House passed a bill Wednesday with broad bipartisan support that would force TikTok’s Chinese owner to either sell the wildly popular video app or be banned in the United States.

The move intensifies the confrontation between Beijing and Washington over control of a wide range of technologies that could affect national security, freedom of expression and the social media industry.

Republican leaders rushed the bill through the House with limited debate, and it passed by a vote of 352 to 65, reflecting broad support for legislation that would directly target China over the an election year.

The action came despite TikTok’s efforts to mobilize its 170 million U.S. users against the measure, and amid efforts by the Biden administration to persuade politicians that Chinese ownership of the platform poses serious security risks national security of the United States, including the ability to interfere in elections.

The result was a bipartisan coalition behind the measure that included Republicans, who defied former President Donald J. Trump by supporting it, and Democrats, who also lined up behind a bill that President Biden said that he would sign.

The bill faces a difficult road ahead of passage in the Senate, where Sen. Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and majority leader, has not committed to bringing it to a vote and some lawmakers have vowed to fight it. And even if it passes the Senate and becomes law, it risks facing legal challenges.

But Wednesday’s vote was the first time a measure that could broadly ban TikTok from consumers was approved by a full chamber of Congress. The app has been under threat since 2020, with politicians increasingly saying that Beijing’s relationship with TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, raises national security risks. The bill aims to get ByteDance to sell TikTok to non-Chinese owners within six months. The president would approve the sale if it resolved national security concerns. If this sale did not take place, the application would be banned.

Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican who is among the lawmakers spearheading the bill, said before the vote that it “requires TikTok to break with the Chinese Communist Party.”

“This is a common-sense measure to protect our national security,” he said.

Alex Haurek, a spokesperson for TikTok, said in a statement that “the House process was secret and the bill passed for one reason only: It’s a ban.”

“We hope the Senate will look at the facts, listen to its constituents and realize the impact on the economy – seven million small businesses – and the 170 million Americans who use our service,” he said. added.

On Wednesday, ahead of the House vote, Beijing condemned the push for U.S. legislation and rejected the notion that TikTok posed a danger to the United States. At a daily press briefing, Wang Wenbin, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, accused Washington of “resorting to hegemonic measures when it is not possible to succeed in fair competition.”

If the bill becomes law, it would likely escalate the cold war between the United States and China over control of many important technologies, including solar panels, electric vehicles and semiconductors.

Mr. Biden announced limits on how American financial companies can invest in Chinese companies and restricted the sale of Americans’ sensitive data, such as location and health information, to data brokers who could sell to China. Platforms like Facebook and YouTube are blocked in China, and Beijing said last year it would oppose a sale of TikTok.

TikTok said it had gone to great lengths to protect U.S. user data and provide third-party oversight of the platform, and that no government could influence the company’s recommendation model. He also said there was no evidence that Beijing used TikTok to obtain data on American users or to influence Americans’ opinions, two of the concerns cited by the judges.

In an unusually aggressive move for a tech company, TikTok urged users to call their representatives last week to protest the bill, saying: “This legislation has a predetermined outcome: a total ban on TikTok in the United States . »

TikTok has spent more than $1 billion on a sweeping plan known as Project Texas, which aims to manage sensitive U.S. user data separately from the rest of the company’s operations. This plan has been reviewed for several years by a committee known as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS.

Two of the lawmakers behind the bill, Mr. Gallagher and Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat, said last week that lawmakers were acting because CFIUS “had not solved the problem.”

It is highly unusual for a bill to garner broad bipartisan support but at the same time divide both parties. President Biden said he would sign the bill, but top House leaders, like Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, voted against the bill. Mr. Trump said he opposed the bill, but many of his staunchest allies in the House, like Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, the fourth-ranking Republican in the House, voted for it.

The vote resulted in something of a free-for-all, with a single coalition in favor and against the bill. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California and former Speaker of the House, sat in the room and nodded alongside far-right Republicans like Rep. Dan Crenshaw, Republican of Texas, as they expressed support for the law Project. At one point, she stood up and walked to the Republican side of the aisle to speak with Rep. Chip Roy, a far-right Republican from Texas, who had strongly supported the bill in the field.

Several Republicans and Democrats have expressed opposition to the bill due to concerns over free speech and the popularity of TikTok in the United States. Some legal experts have said that if the bill becomes law, it would likely face First Amendment scrutiny in the courts.

Rep. Maxwell Frost, a Florida Democrat, said Tuesday, “not only am I a no, I’m a hell of a no.” He said the legislation was a violation of First Amendment rights. “I hear from students all the time that they get their information, the truth about what happened in this country, from content creators on TikTok. » He said he was concerned about Americans’ data, but “this bill does not solve that problem.”

There was no legislation last year following a fiery hearing with Shou Chew, TikTok’s chief executive, despite bipartisan support for regulating the app. But concerns among lawmakers have grown further in recent months, with many saying TikTok’s content recommendations could be used for misinformation, a concern that has intensified in the United States since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas.

“There has been a lot going on in the meantime, including October 7, including the fact that Osama bin Laden’s ‘Letter to America’ went viral on TikTok and the platform continued to show dramatic differences in content compared to other social media platforms,” Mr. Krishnamoorthi said in an interview.

It’s also possible that even if the bill is signed and withstands legal challenges, it could collapse under a new administration. Mr. Trump, who attempted to ban TikTok or force its sale in 2020, publicly reversed his stance on the app over the past week. In a television appearance on Monday, Mr. Trump said the app posed a threat to national security, but that banning it would help Facebook, a platform criticized by the former president.

“There are a lot of young kids on TikTok who would go crazy without it,” he said.

Mr Trump’s administration had threatened to remove TikTok from US app stores if ByteDance did not sell its stake in the app. ByteDance even appeared ready to sell a stake in the app to Walmart and Oracle, whose executives were close to Mr. Trump.

This plan went awry in Federal Court. Several judges blocked Mr. Trump’s proposed ban from taking effect.

Mr. Biden’s administration has tried to turn to a legislative solution. The White House provided “technical assistance” to Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Krishnamoorthi as they drafted their bill, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a briefing. last week. When the bill was introduced, a National Security Council spokesperson quickly called the legislation “an important and welcome step to address” the technological threat that puts Americans’ sensitive data at risk.

The administration has repeatedly sent national security officials to Capitol Hill to privately advocate for the legislation and issue dire warnings about the risks of TikTok’s current ownership. The White House briefed lawmakers ahead of the committee’s 50-0 vote last week that advanced the bill to the full House.

On Tuesday, officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Justice Department spoke about decisions during a classified briefing on national security issues related to TikTok.

Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Krishnamoorthi previously sponsored a bill to ban TikTok. The latest bill was seen as a sort of last stand against the corporation for Mr. Gallagher, who recently said he would not seek a fifth term because “the framers wanted citizens to serve in Congress for a season, then return to their private lives.” lives.”