Mar 12, 2024 - Politics & Policy

TikTok eyes Senate salvation ahead of House vote targeting China

Shou Zi Chew, chief executive officer of TikTok Inc., during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing

Shou Zi Chew, chief executive officer of TikTok Inc., during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A House bill requiring Chinese-owned Bytedance to sell TikTok — or face a U.S. ban — faces a murky path through the Senate.

Why it matters: There's significant bipartisan suspicion toward TikTok. But sudden opposition from former President Trump, constitutional questions and other concerns could complicate the fate of the House bill, which will be voted on Wednesday morning.

  • TikTok has launched an aggressive lobbying effort this week that includes a visit by its CEO and a campaign urging users to call their representative's office.
  • Republicans and Democrats alike want to address the national security and data concerns posed by the Chinese Communist Party's control over Beijing-based Bytedance. But opinions vary on how best to do that.

Between the lines: It's unclear whether Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) would be willing to bring the bill to the floor.

  • Both Republicans and Democrats have raised constitutional concerns over the House's legislation for specifically targeting TikTok by name.
  • "You don't want to establish a precedent on naming an individual company," Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), a China hawk, told reporters Tuesday.
  • "I still have concerns about naming a specific company in legislation, but it feels like this House bill has momentum," Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) told reporters Monday.

Some senators have reiterated their support for the Senate's bipartisan RESTRICT Act, which would give the White House and Commerce power to restrict foreign-backed apps like TikTok.

  • The RESTRICT Act's momentum fizzled last spring amid industry concerns about the scope and potential unintended consequences of the bill.

What they're saying: "We need curbs on social media, but we need those curbs to apply across the board," Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told Axios Pro's tech team.

  • Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) also raised questions about the House's approach potentially impacting other foreign governments' treatment of U.S. social media apps.
  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) brushed aside concerns about backlash from young voters, saying: "Congress needs to educate the American people about the dangers of Chinese control and exploitation of a very popular instrument."

What to watch: TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is holding meetings in the Senate this week, building on intense lobbying efforts by the company to stop the legislation.

  • Some offices have declined invitations to meet, while other senators have expressed openness to sitting down with Chew.

Axios' Ashley Gold contributed reporting.

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