Mar 23, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Team Biden to TikTok's owners: Just sell it

A TikTok supporter holds up a sign during a news conference in front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The Biden administration has a simple response to the army of TikTok influencers who swarmed Capitol Hill yesterday: The app can stay — if ByteDance agrees to sell it.

Why it matters: The White House is under intense pressure from Republicans — and President Biden's fellow Democrats — to protect the nation from potential security threats posed by the Chinese ownership of TikTok, the wildly popular app with 150 million active users in the U.S.

  • At the same time, many young — and progressive — Americans use TikTok as though their life depends on it.
  • Democrats close to the White House are concerned that Biden could face a political reckoning if his actions lead the app to be deleted from the phones of young Americans — a voting group that was crucial to Democrats' surprising success in last year's elections.

Driving the news: Ahead of TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew's testimony to Congress on Thursday, a U.S. official told Axios: "The administration can achieve its national security goals without necessarily banning the app, including by ByteDance selling TikTok.”

  • It was the Biden administration's most explicit official statement yet about its preferred outcome in the debate over TikTok.

The big picture: The official's comments come as the administration, Congress and TikTok are amplifying their arguments on whether the app that features user-generated videos should be sold, banned or modified.

  • For TikTok, that's being done largely by its army of users, influencers and content generators — a powerful alliance the White House has long recognized and courted.
  • The strategy isn't unique, but the scale is: TikTok's users in the U.S. — a little less than half the nation's population — are on notice that the app could be wiped from their phones.
  • “Some politicians have started talking about banning TikTok,” Shou said Tuesday night, on a TikTok video. “Now this could take TikTok away from all 150 million of you.”
  • Rep. Jamal Bowman (D-N.Y) is leading the congressional defense of the app in the face of bipartisan efforts to ban it in the U.S. He held a press conference Wednesday night to make his case.

The other side: Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) has been warning about the risks posed by TikTok.

  • He told reporters yesterday he is concerned about "the notion of this many Americans' data in jeopardy, and the ability to have this platform to be used for propaganda purposes."
  • Warner and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) are lead sponsors of the RESTRICT Act, which would give the Commerce secretary more latitude to restrict and potentially ban companies from countries such as China and Iran.
  • That plan has the support of the White House.
  • Another bipartisan, bicameral effort led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) would ban TikTok entirely. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Rep. Ken Buck (R-Ohio) also have proposed a bill to ban it.
Go deeper