Feb 28, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Republicans want to help Biden ban TikTok

A silhouetted hand holds a phone with the white, pink and blue TikTok logo in front of an American flag.

Photo illustration: Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

Momentum against TikTok is brewing in Congress, where House Republicans are marking up legislation to empower President Biden to ban the app.

Why it matters: The U.S. government's security review of TikTok has dragged on for years, and lawmakers are growing impatient to appear strong against potential Chinese threats.

  • But some top Democrats don't expect this bill to gain broad bipartisan support.

Driving the news: The Deterring America’s Technological Adversaries Act (DATA Act) is being marked up in the Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday.

  • The legislation would loosen restrictions on the president's ability to regulate or ban imports of "informational materials" under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act aimed at safeguarding the free exchange of ideas.

What they're saying: “Currently the courts have questioned the administration’s authority to sanction TikTok. My bill empowers the administration to ban TikTok or any software applications that threaten U.S. national security,” said Foreign Affairs Chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas).

  • "Anyone with TikTok downloaded on their device has given the [Chinese Communist Party] a backdoor to all their personal information," he added.

The other side: The bill needs substantial bipartisan support to pass the Senate, but Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on Foreign Affairs, told Axios that he expects Democrats both on the committee and in the Senate will oppose it.

  • "As it is right now, it's a [Republican] party-line bill. It is overly broad. We didn't have a chance to discuss it at all" Meeks told Axios. "There were some suggestions that were made [by my staff] that were ... summarily dismissed."
  • Meeks spokesman Andrei Vasilescu told Axios the bill would "result in sanctions on companies in allied countries in Europe and Asia," and that Meeks also wants to wait for the security review to be completed.
  • Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), another Democrat on Foreign Affairs, told Axios, "Not well-written, not well thought out and terrible overreach. I think there won't be any [Democratic votes for it]."

Congress has already restricted its staffers' use of TikTok on government devices.

  • In a memo last December, the House's chief administrative officer wrote: "TikTok is NOT allowed on House mobile devices. If you have the TikTok app on your House mobile device, you will be contacted to remove it."
  • The Biden administration has also taken steps to purge TikTok from federal devices, with the Office of Management and Budget instructing staffers to delete it off their work phones and computers within 30 days and contractors within 90 days.
  • TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew agreed to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on March 23, Axios Pro Rata author Dan Primack reported in January.

What we're watching: Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is expected to roll out his own TikTok bill soon that could also empower bans on other Chinese companies.

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