Mar 19, 2024 - Politics & Policy

TikTok hawks hope intel briefing will scare Senate into action

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence vice chairmen Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) (L) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) lead an open hearing about global threats against the United States in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on March 11, 2024 in Washington, DC.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), left, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who chairs the Intelligence committee. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Senators wanting to crack down on TikTok are banking on U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials scaring their colleagues into action on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The House moved at breathtaking speed to pass a bill that requires the Chinese-owned Bytedance to divest from TikTok or face a ban. President Biden is willing to sign it. But momentum has slowed in the Senate.

  • There were only eight days between the bill's introduction and its overwhelming passage in the House.

Driving the news: Senators on Wednesday will get a briefing on TikTok from the FBI, Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

  • House members received a similar briefing from top U.S. intelligence officials about the threat of TikTok last week.
  • Lawmakers have credited it with helping the bill cinch the overwhelming support it received on the House floor.

What they're saying: "I think the fact that the intelligence law enforcement community briefed a lot of House members in closed sessions about these concerns, I'm sure helped get the vote totals so high," Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), a key advocate of the bill, told Axios last week.

  • He said that having the same kind of briefing with senators will "be a critical part of making the case" for the bill.
  • "Hopefully, people will leave there with the same perceptions that House members left a similar briefing a week ago," Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who chairs the Intelligence committee, told Axios on Tuesday.

What to watch: The bill's proponents are hoping the briefing makes clear the unique threat of TikTok because of its ties to China — separating it from broader concerns with social media companies and data privacy, according to one GOP Senate aide familiar with the dynamics.

  • Lawmakers on the far left and the far right have raised concerns about focusing only on TikTok and not the broader social media space.
  • Members have also argued there could be free speech concerns.

The big picture: The overwhelming vote in the House has put strong political pressure on Senate leaders to move on the bill, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has kept his powder dry on the issue.

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