Could Congress’s TikTok Ban Actually Land on Joe Biden’s Desk?

A bill that could lead to a federal ban on the video-sharing app TikTok passed the House Wednesday in a 352-65 fast-tracked vote, with 15 Republicans and 50 Democrats voting against it. The Protecting Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act marks the first time the House has passed a bill seeking to outlaw an internet app. The bill would make it illegal for companies to distribute or host TikTok within the US unless ByteDance, the app’s Beijing-based parent company, divests its interest, opening the door for TikTok to be purchased by a Western company.

Lawmakers from both parties believe the app poses a national-security threat, alleging that the Chinese government could compel TikTok to provide it with data on US users or spread propaganda. “Apps like TikTok allow the Chinese Communist Party to push harmful content to our youth and engage in malign activities, such as harvesting the location, purchasing habits, contacts, and sensitive data of Americans,” House Speaker Mike Johnson said in a statement. “Today’s bipartisan vote demonstrates Congress’s opposition to Communist China’s attempts to spy on and manipulate Americans, and signals our resolve to deter our enemies.”

TikTok has repeatedly denied such claims and said it would not cooperate with the Chinese government if asked for data on its US user base. It also has moved to store its US data on cloud servers managed by Oracle, a software firm based in Austin. “This latest legislation being rushed through at unprecedented speed without even the benefit of a public hearing, poses serious Constitutional concerns,” Michael Beckerman, TikTok’s public policy chief, wrote in a letter to the sponsors of the PAFACA Act.

Should the bill pass in the Senate, President Joe Biden has said he would sign it into law. However, support for the legislation appears less certain in the upper chamber: Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, said Tuesday he will “have to consult and intend to consult with my relevant committee [chairpeople] to see what their views would be.” Maria Cantwell, chairwoman of one relevant committee, the Senate Commerce Committee, has likewise not committed to advancing the bill, instead saying she will work with her colleagues to find a “path forward that is constitutional and protects civil liberties.”

At the same time, the measure has received the backing of Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Mark Warner, a Democrat, and the committee’s top Republican and vice chairman, Marco Rubio. “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,” the lawmakers wrote in a joint statement. “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.”

A TikTok ban was first floated during the final months of the Trump administration, which used executive action to prohibit transactions between ByteDance and US citizens. But those efforts ultimately were curbed following legal challenges. As for Donald Trump, he has since appeared to cool on the issue, recently saying that a ban would make young voters “go crazy” during an election year. “Frankly, there are a lot of people on TikTok that love it,” Trump told CNBC, adding that any legislation that would harm TikTok would in turn help Facebook. “There’s a lot of good and there’s a lot of bad with TikTok,” he continued, “but the thing I don’t like is that without TikTok, you can make Facebook bigger, and I consider Facebook to be an enemy of the people.” 

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