Mar 14, 2024 - Politics & Policy

How a TikTok crackdown could get jammed in the Senate

Participants hold signs in support of TikTok outside the U.S. Capitol Building

Participants hold signs in support of TikTok outside the U.S. Capitol Building. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

A House-approved bill that threatens to ban TikTok picked up critical bipartisan support in the Senate on Wednesday — but Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) remains noncommittal about bringing it to a vote.

Why it matters: President Biden's commitment to sign the legislation on top of the decisive, bipartisan House vote puts immense pressure on the Senate to take action. But the politics will be tricky.

  • "This overwhelming of a vote really means that this is an issue that we've got to take up," Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who chairs the Intelligence committee, told Axios.

Driving the news: Warner was joined by the highest-ranking Republican on the committee, Sen. Mark Rubio (Fla.), in praising the House's passage of the bill, which would force Chinese-owned Bytedance to divest from TikTok or be banned in the U.S.

  • "We are united in our concern about the national security threat posed by TikTok," they said in a joint statement.

What to watch: Senate Democrats and Republicans have expressed concerns over whether the bill would stand up in court — or does enough to stop future iterations of TikTok-like apps.

  • Passing a potential TikTok ban also risks upsetting young voters who rely on the app for news, entertainment and income.
  • Biden and some Democrats already have been losing support among young voters over their support for Israel in its war against Hamas in Gaza — an issue that has led Biden boost aid to displaced Palestinians and press Israel to agree to a ceasefire.
  • Despite broad agreement in principle, what "we're likely to see happen in the Senate is people will nickel-and-dime it, a death by a thousand cuts," Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who supports the House bill, told Axios' Dan Primack.

What they're saying: Like Schumer, Senate Commerce committee chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) hasn't committed to advancing the House bill.

  • "The Senate will review the legislation when it comes over from the House," Schumer said in a statement after the House vote.
  • "I will be talking to my Senate and House colleagues to try to find a path forward that is constitutional and protects civil liberties," Cantwell, who has been critical of the House's measure, said in a statement.

Between the lines: The right flank also has problems with the TikTok bill.

  • Donald Trump, the presumed GOP nominee for president, has said he's against the bill. A source who has spoken to Trump and Republican senators on the issue told Axios they would be surprised if the Senate voted on the House bill without any changes to the legislation.
  • Some Senate conservatives are expected to criticize the bill because it would give new power to the White House and not address broader data privacy concerns, according to one top Senate GOP staffer.
  • Trump has said he's worried that companies such as Meta would become more powerful in TikTok's absence.
  • Momentum behind a similar Senate bill last year was stifled in part by similar attacks by Tucker Carlson.

The big picture: Trump allies, TikTok lobbyists and dedicated app users descended upon Capitol Hill during the past week to lobby or protest against the bill. It might have been counterproductive.

  • Lawmakers — including members of GOP Senate leadership — declined requests to meet with TikTok CEO Shou Chew, sources familiar with the situation told Axios.
  • "I think their kind of over-the-top scare tactics ... really backfired in their face. And frankly ... , gained more votes in the House," Warner said.

The bottom line: The rapid movement on restricting TikTok offers Congress an opportunity in a regulatory space in which there has long been no action.

  • "We've done no guardrails on social media, no kids online safety protection, no privacy bill, no guardrails on AI — the litany — even though there's lots of interest," Warner said.
Go deeper