All Eyes Turn to Senate as TikTok Begins Lobbying Operation To Head Off Potential Ban

The chief executive of the company is trying to meet with as many senators as possible before the chamber takes up the legislation.

AP/Kiichiro Sato
The TikTok app logo. AP/Kiichiro Sato

The Senate will soon begin consideration of a bill that could lead to the banning of the social media app TikTok after the House voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to approve the measure. TikTok has already launched a lobbying campaign to kill the legislation in the upper chamber. 

The House passed the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, which would force TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, to sell the app, or the platform would face a blanket ban in America. The House voted 352–65 to pass the bill, with one member voting present. 

The bill would apply similar forced sale mechanisms to platforms that are owned in part by entities in Russia, Communist China, Iran, and North Korea. 

Senators say that the House bill must be considered diligently, so as to not run into legal trouble while also protecting consumers’ right to access information online. 

One member of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Cornyn, says the bill needs to be more comprehensive when it comes to data privacy and foreign ownership of social media platforms. 

“I think it’s more than likely that we will take up their bill and amend it and say we’ve come up with some areas where we think it needs improvement,” Mr. Cornyn tells reporters. “My concern is that if you try to deal with this by name, you’re playing a game of whack-a-mole because what’s TikTok today, next week it’s tock-tick or tick-tack or whatever.”

Senator Tillis tells the Sun that the Senate will likely change the bill in order to address a broader range of privacy concerns.

“We’ve got to do something for the concerns in terms of our national security, and more specifically about personal information,” he says. “I think there’s already a threat that a lot of the information of TikTok users is already in China’s hands, so the question is: How do we manage that future threat?”

ByteDance’s lobbying operation in the upper chamber will likely be extensive. Punchbowl News is reporting that the chief executive of TikTok, Shou Zi Chew, attempted to meet with senators on Wednesday but many lawmakers were unable to find time on their schedules. 

According to OpenSecrets, ByteDance has spent tens of millions of dollars in the last five years to lobby on the Hill, and the number has increased rapidly as TikTok has come under scrutiny. In 2019, ByteDance spent $270,000 lobbying members of Congress. By 2023, that number had ballooned to $8.74 million. 

Not only is ByteDance about to make a mad dash to lobby senators, but Republicans are also facing pushback from their presumptive presidential nominee. 

President Trump, in recent days, has said that TikTok should be allowed to stay on the market, even though he himself tried to curb the platform in the past through a forced sale mechanism. In 2020, he signed an executive order aimed at forcing the sale of the app to an American company, which was later struck down in court. 

Most Republicans in the House and Senate are seemingly happy to buck Mr. Trump on the issue of banning TikTok, though. The former president has said that if the app is banned, California’s big tech companies will just come up with a copycat platform that will be weaponized against him. 

Members of Congress don’t share those concerns: “Well, I’m going to vote for the bill so it doesn’t weigh too heavily on me,” the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Mike McCaul, tells the Sun of Mr. Trump’s concerns.

“We’ve got to take a look at President Trump’s position and then address” some of those concerns, Mr. Tillis says, clarifying that it’s the Senate’s job — not the candidate’s — to craft legislation.

The New York Sun

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