TikTok Bill Easily Passes in House, CEO Plans Legal Fight

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary hearing dealing with Big Tech on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

(Bloomberg News/CQ-Roll Call/TNS) — A bill which would force social media platform TikTok to divest from its Chinese parent company earned overwhelming support in the House of Representatives Wednesday, as the app’s CEO maintains that he and the company will exhaust all legal challenges before considering any kind of divestiture, according to people familiar with the matter.

The House voted 352-65 to pass legislation, amid testimony that the app’s parent company ByteDance is bound by Chinese law to disclose personal data on American users of the platform, a concern which has led to U.S. government entities banning the use of the app on employees’ devices.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which voted 50-0 to bring the bill to the House floor, said on the House floor that the legislation is aimed at the Chinese Communist Party for using TikTok to “manipulate tens of millions of people to further its agenda.”

Passage of the measure would “send a clear message that we will not tolerate our adversaries weaponizing our freedoms against us,” Rodgers said.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., the top Democrat on that committee, said the bill’s intention is no different from U.S. efforts in the past of restricting of restricting “our TV and radio airwaves from ownership by foreign governments and individuals.” Social media companies “should also face similar scrutiny,” he said.

A sale of the viral video app is considered to be the last resort, said the people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified discussing private matters. A divestiture would also require approval by the Chinese government, which said last year that it would firmly oppose a forced sale. No plans are final, and would depend on how the legislation progresses, the people said.

Others, including Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the top Republican on the committee, and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who serves on the intelligence panel, have raised alarms about TikTok and the way Beijing could weaponize the app.

“We are united in our concern about the national security threat posed by TikTok — a platform with enormous power to influence and divide Americans whose parent company ByteDance remains legally required to do the bidding of the Chinese Communist Party,” Warner and Rubio said in a joint statement Wednesday. “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.”

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who opposed the bill, said the measure’s backers were well intentioned but failed to take into account likely consequences.

Backers of the legislation “described TikTok as a Trojan Horse, but some of us feel that either intentionally or unintentionally this legislation to ban TikTok is actually a Trojan Horse,” Massie said before the vote.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, has said she is concerned about the national security implications of a Chinese-owned app being used by hundreds of millions of Americans, but also wanted to closely examine the free-speech implications of the House measure before deciding on the next steps.

The company will continue making its case to members in the Senate, where the existing bill from the House has no co-sponsor, said one of the people familiar with the matter.

A TikTok spokesperson declined to comment on the company’s plans. The legislation “has a predetermined outcome: a total ban of TikTok in the United States,” the spokesperson said.

The company discussed the possibility of separating from ByteDance in March 2023, Bloomberg reported at the time. Such a move would have been pursued only if the company’s existing proposal with U.S. national security officials didn’t get approved. There hasn’t yet been a public resolution on the national security review undertaken by the Biden administration.

“In recent years, although the United States has never found evidence that TikTok threatens U.S. national security, it has never stopped suppressing TikTok,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin said Wednesday. “This practice of bullying — if you cannot win in fair competition — disrupts the normal business activities of enterprises, damages the confidence of international investors” and “undermines the normal international economic and trade order, which will eventually backfire on America itself.”

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