Bipartisan TikTok Bill That Sailed Through the House Unlikely To Receive a Senate Vote Anytime Soon

Senator Schumer places the House-passed legislation that would force a sale or enact a ban of TikTok low on his list of must-do items.

AP/Michael Dwyer
Google, Facebook, TikTok and other Big Tech companies operating in Europe are facing one of the most far-reaching efforts to clean up what people encounter online. AP/Michael Dwyer

The Senate will not take up the House-passed legislation that would force a sale or enact a ban of TikTok for weeks or months, Senator Schumer says in a letter to his colleagues. He places that bill low on his list of must-do items. 

In a letter to other Democratic senators, Mr. Schumer says that there are other critical items that the upper chamber must deal with before the TikTok legislation is considered. He names judicial confirmations, the impeachment trial of the homeland security secretary, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act reforms, the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, pressuring Speaker Johnson on foreign aid, and additional funding for the Maryland bridge rebuilding ahead of the TikTok bill. 

“In the weeks and months ahead, we have the opportunity to … work on a path forward on TikTok legislation,” the Senate majority leader said in his letter. “There are many important, bipartisan issues this Congress could address this year, and I hope our Senate Republican colleagues don’t allow the ultra-right wing of their party to derail progress on these bipartisan bills.”

The legislation, called the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, would force TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, to sell the app, or the platform would face a blanket ban in America. 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. 

The chairwoman of the Commerce Committee who will be charged with moving the TikTok legislation forward, Senator Cantwell, has said repeatedly that she will not rush the legislation through her panel and on to the floor. She says she has more important things to do, including comprehensive data privacy legislation. 

“We’ll probably have a better idea in a week what we think the options are,” Ms. Cantwell told reporters after the House passed the legislation by a margin of 352–65. “Of course we want … the strongest possible tool and we want it to be the most robust tool we can get.” She has received criticism in recent days because she has refused to move quickly with the legislation that President Biden has promised to sign. Several of Ms. Cantwell’s former staffers are lobbying on behalf of the social media platform. 

Republicans and Democrats alike have said the bill is a must-pass item. Vice President Pence’s outside spending group, Advancing American Freedom, has launched a $2 million ad buy across several states, including Montana, Ohio, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin — all states where Democratic senators are facing tough reelections. The ad, titled “China Chuck,” shows Republican and Democratic senators — including the majority leader — talking about the threat of TikTok. It then urges voters to call Mr. Schumer’s office. 

“My hope is, through beginning this ad campaign in a way that really invites Senator Schumer and the Democrats to step up and agree with positions they’ve taken before, that we’ll be able to get this above politics and move legislation that’ll address a very real national security threat for the people of the United States,” Mr. Pence told the New York Post. 

President Trump’s position on a TikTok ban has been ambivalent in recent months, but he once tried to force the sale or enact a ban, just as the pending legislation does. In 2020, he signed an executive order demanding the divestment or ban of TikTok, which led tech giants Microsoft and Oracle to make plays to buy the app. A federal judge later reversed the executive order. 

When the new legislation came out earlier this year, Mr. Trump came out against the bill, saying that platforms like Facebook posed an even greater threat to America. Some have speculated that Mr. Trump’s reversal was the result of urging from financier Jeff Yass, who is a major donor to Mr. Trump and other Republican candidates. 

The co-author of the TikTok legislation, Congressman Mike Gallagher, recently announced that he would retire from Congress prematurely, after previously announcing he simply would not seek reelection. He is due to step down on April 19, citing family duties and his accomplishments during his four terms in the House. 

Some senators say that the TikTok legislation is too narrow, arguing that Congress will end up playing a game of “whack-a-mole” with individual social media apps. 

“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,” Senator Cornyn told reporters after the House passed the bill. “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 told the Sun that a more comprehensive data privacy bill is needed to protect not only against the current threat posed by TikTok, but against future abuses by foreign-owned applications.

“We’ve got to do something for the concerns in terms of our national security, and more specifically about personal information,” he said. “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?”

The New York Sun

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