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National News

U.S. House votes to ban TikTok unless it is sold by China-controlled parent

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Ashley Murray, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
March 13, 2024

WASHINGTON — Citing major national security concerns, the U.S. House on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a bill that effectively bans TikTok unless the company splits from its Chinese owner ByteDance.

The 352-65 vote occurred just a week after lawmakers introduced the bipartisan proposal and days after the powerful House Committee on Energy and Commerce unanimously advanced the legislation, an unusual speed for the 118th Congress.

The bill required a two-thirds majority because House leadership placed it on the floor under a fast-track procedure called suspension of the rules.

The legislation, dubbed the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, now heads to the Senate, where concerns over singling out a private company in legislation may slow momentum.

“The overwhelming vote today is a strong signal to the Senate that they need to act,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the Washington Republican who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, said after the vote.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said in a statement late Wednesday morning that the body “will review the legislation when it comes over from the House.”

Leaders on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said they are “united” in concern about a platform that has “enormous power to influence and divide Americans whose parent company ByteDance remains legally required to do the bidding of the Chinese Communist Party.”

“We were encouraged by today’s strong bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives and look forward to working together to get this bill passed through the Senate and signed into law,” committee chair Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, and vice chairman Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, said in a joint statement.

President Joe Biden, whose administration had a hand in crafting the bill, is expected to sign the measure if the upper chamber approves it.

Despite Biden’s support of the bill, his re-election campaign joined TikTok last month as a way to reach Gen Z voters.

‘Hell no’

While broad support swells from both sides of the aisle, the legislation has been met by fierce opposition from TikTok users — totaling some 170 million in the U.S. — and from a coalition of young House lawmakers.

“Not only am I a ‘no’ on tomorrow’s TikTok ban bill, I’m a ‘Hell no,’” Rep. Maxwell Frost, a Democrat representing Florida, said at a Tuesday press conference where he questioned which companies are large enough to acquire TikTok. Frost is the youngest member of Congress at 27.

“Essentially what this bill is doing is setting this whole sale up to fail,” he said.

Forty-nine Democrats joined Frost in opposing the bill Wednesday, including several members of the so-called squad, a group of progressive Democrats that includes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Greg Casar of Texas, Summer Lee of Pennsylvania, Cori Bush of Missouri and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.

Lee (D-12th District) was one of three members of Pennsylvania’s U.S. House delegation who voted no: the others were Democrat Brendan Boyle (2nd District), and Republican Scott Perry (10th District).

Boyle said in a statement that while he has “concerns with TikTok, including to our security and privacy,” he was not convinced that there was a compelling enough case for the government to ban a social media app, potentially against of the First Amendment freedom of speech protections.

“I believe we need to address those concerns and in a way that also balances our constitutional rights. But suddenly rushing through a bill in mere days, with very little deliberation, is not the answer,” Boyle said. “Instead, where the GOP majority should be rushing is to schedule a vote on desperately needed aid for Ukraine.”

Lee did not issue a statement Wednesday on her vote, but has previously called TikTok an incredible organizing tactic and expressed skepticism about banning it.

Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Washington Democrat Pramila Jayapal voted against the measure, saying in a statement that the “overly rushed” bill “provides an unworkable path to remove TikTok from ownership by a Chinese company, making it a de facto ban.”

Notably, Connecticut Democrat Jim Himes, ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, voted against the legislation.

“I have more insight than most into the online threats posed by our adversaries. But one of the key differences between us and those adversaries is the fact that they shut down newspapers, broadcast stations, and social media platforms. We do not. We trust our citizens to be worthy of their democracy. We do not trust our government to decide what information they may or may not see,” Himes said in a statement after the vote.

The bill’s original sponsor, Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, said he and Himes were in the same security threats hearing Tuesday where intel officials warned against TikTok.

“We had every major Biden administration national security official saying the current ownership structure of TikTok is a security threat. Perhaps Mr. Himes had presidential concerns or constitutional concerns? I don’t know. But I don’t think anyone can make a case that under the current ownership structure TikTok is not a threat,” said Gallagher, chair of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party.

Calls deluge congressional offices

Users of the wildly popular social media platform flooded lawmakers’ offices with thousands of calls Thursday after the company sent a push notification warning that a ban could be imminent, an argument the company maintains.

The platform attracts user-made videos hitting the areas of politics and news, celebrity gossip, dance trends, recipes, and expensive skin care routines.

“This process was secret and the bill was jammed through for one reason: it’s a ban. We are hopeful that the Senate will consider the facts, listen to their constituents, and realize the impact on the economy, 7 million small businesses, and the 170 million Americans who use our service,” a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday.

Supporters from both parties refute that claim.

“The legislation before the Congress does not ban TikTok. It is designed to address legitimate national security and privacy concerns related to the Chinese Communist Party’s engagement with a frequently used social media platform,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat, said in a statement Wednesday.

“If enacted, the bill would require divestiture by ByteDance and the sale of TikTok to an American company,” he continued.

Divestiture deadline set 

The bill gives TikTok 180 days to splinter from ByteDance and will make it unlawful for any American app store or web hosting company to distribute or maintain platforms controlled by designated U.S. foreign adversaries.

The social media platform, 100% owned by ByteDance, has long been in the crosshairs of federal and state lawmakers, whom intelligence officials have warned of the possibility of China’s government accessing Americans’ data via the app.

Lawmakers passed legislation in December 2022 banning the app from most federal employee devices. The Montana Legislature banned the app last year, but the law remains tied up in court.

Former President Donald Trump issued an executive order in 2020 banning TikTok unless it broke from ByteDance. This week Trump reversed his position on the platform, telling CNBC that “without TikTok you’re going to make Facebook bigger.”

Wednesday’s passage of the bill represents a rare departure for House Republicans from Trump, the party’s front-runner in the 2024 general election.

But some Republican lawmakers have fallen in line with Trump’s opposition, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who said on the floor Wednesday before the vote she worries that Congress could open a “Pandora’s box” and target other platforms like X.

Greene said her “free speech” was “restored” when Elon Musk purchased Twitter and reinstated her account.

“This is really about controlling Americans’ data,” said Greene on the floor before the vote.

First Amendment concerns

Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky criticized the bill on the floor prior to the vote, despite saying he believes the bill’s supporters “are sincere in their concerns and in their effort to protect Americans.”

“They describe the TikTok application as a Trojan horse, but there’s some of us who feel that either intentionally or unintentionally this legislation to ban TikTok is actually a Trojan horse,” he said before the vote.

“Some of us are concerned that there are First Amendment implications here. Americans have the right to view information. … Some of us just don’t want the president picking which apps we can put on our phones,” Massie continued.

The bill would empower the president to determine whether a “foreign adversary controlled application” poses a national security threat.

The president would then need to determine, in conjunction with executive branch agencies, if and when the foreign-owned app has undergone a “qualified divestiture,” according to the bill text.

Republicans voting no

Among the 15 House GOP members including Greene and Massie casting ‘no’ votes were: Andy Biggs and David Schweikert of Arizona, Dan Bishop of North Carolina, Warren Davidson of Ohio, John Duarte and Tom McClintock of California, Matt Gaetz and Greg Steube of Florida, Clay Higgins of Louisiana, Nancy Mace of South Carolina, Alex Mooney of West Virginia, Barry Moore of Alabama and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania.

“Let me be clear: the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) spies on American Citizens, but the Federal Government shouldn’t be a babysitter,” Perry said in a statement to the Capital-Star. “The language in this bill is very broad and could be used by our government to target the American People  similar to the Patriot Act. I have and will continue to fight for the CCP to be labeled a Transnational Criminal Organization so the Department of Justice can prosecute the CCP and its agents.”

Gallagher said he wanted to clear up “misconceptions” of the bill ahead of the vote.

“It does not apply to American companies,” he said on the floor and later posted on X from his office’s account.

“It only applies to companies subject to the control of foreign adversaries defined by Congress. It says nothing about election interference and cannot be turned against any American social media platform. It does not impact websites in general. The only impacted sites are those associated with foreign adversary apps, such as TikTok.com.”

The Capital-Star staff contributed.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.