The House GOP Is About to Jam Senate Dems on the TikTok Bill

Photo Illustration by Erin O’Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty Images and TikTok
Photo Illustration by Erin O’Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty Images and TikTok

To the chagrin of middle-schoolers everywhere, the most extreme restrictions on TikTok are on a glide path to passage in Congress.

The bill—which is now set to get a vote on Saturday and is expected to pass with strong bipartisan support—has animated distraught TikTok creators of all ages to call congressional offices and demand they oppose a ban on the popular video app.

While the legislation is largely understood and referred to as a bill to ban TikTok, the truth is far more complex. The measure would not immediately ban TikTok. Rather, it would force its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, to sell the app to a U.S.-based entity within nine months of becoming law, giving the president the option of stalling the elimination of TikTok for another 90 days.

TikTok Is Bad. Banning It Would Be Much Worse.

The House passed effectively the same measure about five weeks ago—the biggest change is the timeline for a sale, from six months to now nine months (and potentially a year)—but it’s languished in the Senate ever since. With no movement, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) folded the legislation into a quartet of foreign aid bills. By linking the bill to much-needed foreign aid—most specifically, highly controversial Ukraine aid—Johnson’s maneuver is designed to force the Senate to approve the bill.

Once the bills are individually passed, Johnson is using a complex procedural maneuver to wrap them all together and send them to the Senate as one package. And he’s betting that the Senate wouldn’t dare strip out the TikTok provisions and send the bill back; doing so could set off a string of volleys in the legislative ping pong and imperil Ukraine aid. Instead, he believes forcing a vote on the TikTok provisions will prove that senators actually approve of the forced sale, just like their House counterparts.

The Senate has been frozen on the TikTok legislation now for over a month, as the Democratic majority squabbles over key issues. Some senators are more interested in addressing the data privacy issues of TikTok more than potentially handing a huge win to other tech platforms. Other lawmakers are concerned about the sweeping authorities the bill would give the president to ban any tech platform with Chinese connections.

Although key Democrats—including President Joe Biden—support the bill, TikTok lobbyists have been circling Capitol Hill for weeks to pressure Senate Democrats to kill the legislation in the name of free speech.

“It is unfortunate that the House of Representatives is using the cover of important foreign and humanitarian assistance to once again jam through a ban bill that would trample the free speech rights of 170 million Americans, devastate 7 million businesses, and shutter a platform that contributes $24 billion to the U.S. economy, annually,” a “TikTok Policy” X account said in a Wednesday statement.

Lawmakers Face ‘Uptick’ of Alarming Threats Amid TikTok Bill Drama: Report

But the House is about to force the Senate’s hand. Since the bill has such broad House support, from lawmakers concerned about Beijing accessing and manipulating data from U.S. users, the restrictions are almost surely headed back to the Senate.

“The Chinese have access,” Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL) told The Daily Beast. “I don’t care what anybody says, they do. Because the Chinese are smart enough not to tell you what they're doing.”

As a close ally of former President Donald Trump, Donalds’ support for the bill is notable. Trump, who led the charge against TikTok years ago, now opposes the latest legislative push to force a sale. (Notably, Trump megadonor Jeff Yass is a major ByteDance investor.)

But the House GOP majority is about to act against Trump’s wishes and give Biden another win, though the move has already proven to be extremely unpopular with TikTok users. (Of those who use TikTok daily, 73 percent oppose a ban.)

Meanwhile, the general adult population is, by and large, evenly split on a TikTok ban. According to an AP poll in February, 31 percent of adults support a nationwide ban, with 35 percent of adults opposing a ban and another 31 percent saying they don’t have an opinion on the issue.

Still, Democrats are betting ByteDance will abide by the legislation and sell TikTok to another company well before the initial nine month deadline. That bet, however, is no sure thing.

TikTok has signaled it will move its efforts to kill the legislation from the halls of Congress to the judicial system, planning to challenge the bill in court and try to tie it up there.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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