House moves ahead with TikTok ban bill despite opposition from Trump : NPR


The TikTok Inc. building is seen in Culver City, Calif., on March 17, 2023.

Damian Dovarganes/AP

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Damian Dovarganes/AP

The TikTok Inc. building is seen in Culver City, Calif., on March 17, 2023.

Damian Dovarganes/AP

NEW YORK — House Republicans are moving ahead with a bill that would require Chinese company ByteDance to sell TikTok or face a ban in the United States even as former President Donald Trump is voicing opposition to the effort.

House leadership has scheduled a vote on the measure for Wednesday. A Republican congressional aide not authorized to speak publicly said that’s still the plan and there has not been significant pushback to the bill from lawmakers.

A vote for the bill would represent an unusual break with the former president by House Republicans, but Speaker Mike Johnson and others have already forcefully come out in favor of the bill, and dropping it now would represent a significant reversal. “It’s an important bipartisan measure to take on China, our largest geopolitical foe, which is actively undermining our economy and security,” Johnson declared last week.

Trump said Monday that he still believes TikTok poses a national security risk but is opposed to banning the hugely popular app because doing so would help its rival, Facebook, which he continues to lambast over his 2020 election loss.

“Frankly, there are a lot of people on TikTok that love it. There are a lot of young kids on TikTok who will go crazy without it,” Trump said in a call-in interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “There’s a lot of good and there’s a lot of bad with TikTok. But the thing I don’t like is that without TikTok you’re going to make Facebook bigger, and I consider Facebook to be an enemy of the people, along with a lot of the media.”

“When I look at it, I’m not looking to make Facebook double the size,” he added. “I think Facebook has been very bad for our country, especially when it comes to elections.”

Trump has repeatedly complained about Facebook’s role during the 2020 election, which he still refuses to concede he lost to President Joe Biden. That includes at least $400 million that its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, and his wife donated to two nonprofit organizations that distributed grants to state and local governments to help them conduct the 2020 election at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The donations — which were fully permitted under campaign finance law — went to pay for things like equipment to process mail ballots and drive-thru voting locations.

TikTok, a video-sharing app, has emerged as a major issue in the 2024 presidential campaign. The platform has about 170 million users in the U.S., most of whom skew younger — a demographic that both parties are desperately trying to court ahead of November’s general election. Younger voters have become especially hard for campaigns to reach as they gravitate away from traditional platforms like cable television.

Biden’s 2024 campaign officially joined TikTok last month, even though he has expressed his own national security concerns over the platform, banned it on federal devices and on Friday endorsed the legislation that could lead to its ban.

The bill being considered by the House would require the Chinese firm ByteDance to divest TikTok and other applications it owns within six months of the bill’s enactment in order to avoid a nationwide ban. The legislation also creates a process that lets the executive branch prohibit access to other apps that pose a threat to national security.

“This legislation will trample the First Amendment rights of 170 million Americans and deprive 5 million small businesses of a platform they rely on to grow and create jobs,” TikTok said last week as a House committee took up the bill, passing it on a 50-0 vote.

Some advocacy groups and members that often align with Trump said Monday they disagreed with him on the TikTok bill.

“He’s wrong,” said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, on Trump. “And by the way, he had his own executive orders and actions he was doing. Now he’s suddenly flipped around on that.”

Heritage Action, a conservative advocacy group, said it would include the vote in its scorecard grading members.

“The legislation establishes an important national security standard for social media companies: Don’t be controlled by a foreign adversary,” the group said.

And, showing the issue sparks strong opinions across party lines, Democratic Rep. Maxwell Frost of Florida said he opposed this “masked effort that will most likely result in TikTok being banned.”

“I think it’s going to have drastic impacts for businesses, content creators and a lot of folks in our country,” Frost said.

Rep. Michael McCaul, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said he’s still confident about the bill’s prospects in the House.

“It’s going to sail, and then it will be up to the Senate,” McCaul said. “And the White House has already acknowledged that they’re going to sign it into law. So I think this is a real positive step.”

The bill will likely need support from at least 60 senators to make it across the finish line and be signed into law. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said he would encourage colleagues to vote for it. Also, Sen. Eric Schmitt, a Missouri Republican who is often aligned with Trump, said of TikTok that “the amount of data and information they have on Americans is very concerning” and could get in the wrong hands.

As president, Trump attempted to ban TikTok through an executive order that called “the spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in the People’s Republic of China (China)” a threat to “the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States.” The courts, however, blocked the action after TikTok sued, arguing such actions would violate free speech and due process rights.

Biden in 2022 banned the use of TikTok by the federal government’s nearly 4 million employees on devices owned by its agencies, with limited exceptions for law enforcement, national security and security research purposes.

Both the FBI and the Federal Communications Commission have warned that TikTok owner ByteDance could share user data — such as browsing history, location and biometric identifiers — with China’s authoritarian government. TikTok said it has never done that and wouldn’t do so if asked. The U.S. government also hasn’t provided evidence of that happening.

House lawmakers are expected to receive a briefing Tuesday on TikTok from the FBI, Justice Department and intelligence officials, according to a congressional aide, who was granted anonymity to disclose details of the briefing that has not yet been made public.

Trump, in the interview, said he had not discussed the company with Jeff Yass, a TikTok investor and a major GOP donor. Trump said the two had recently met “very briefly” but that Yass “never mentioned TikTok.”

Trump also confirmed he met last week with Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of Tesla and SpaceX who has increasingly aligned himself with conservative politics. Trump said he didn’t know whether Musk would end up supporting his campaign, noting they “obviously have opposing views on a minor subject called electric cars,” which Trump has railed against.

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