Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Trump, who said Friday night that he'll ban TikTok, may allow Microsoft to buy the app's U.S. operations if there's "complete separation" from the original Beijing-based company, Republican sources tell Axios.

What's new: Conversations with Republicans over the weekend suggest a possible blueprint for making the proposed Microsoft deal palatable to the White House.

  • Microsoft promises a complete break from the Chinese parent company, ByteDance — not just data and servers, but also software.
  • What’s essential is there can be no lingering connection of any kind to ByteDance or non-U.S. TikTok.

Trump "has a deal on his desk" whereby Microsoft would lead an acquisition of 100% of the U.S. operations of TikTok, Axios' Dan Primack reported yesterday.

  • Microsoft seems to believe total separation from ByteDance is attainable.
  • Microsoft has the technical know-how/capabilities, money and global government relationships to pull this off.

Context: Presidents normally can't just order a ban on individual companies. But TikTok's foreign ownership gives the Treasury Department's Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States broad authority over it.

The bottom line: Look for the above formula to be the minimum.

  • People who have discussed the issue with Trump think he'd be fine with a simple ban.

Primack's thought bubble: Trump likely has a binary choice on TikTok: Shut it down, thus risking the ire of 100 million U.S. users just months from an election, or let Microsoft buy it.

Go deeper

There's little consensus on TikTok's specific national security threat

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

TikTok has become a Rorschach test for how U.S. politicians view China, with little consensus on the specifics of its threat to homeland security.

The big picture: Much of what D.C. fears about TikTok is fear itself, and that's reflected in President Trump's executive order to ban the app by Sept. 20 if it's not sold by parent company ByteDance — alongside another focused on Chinese messaging app WeChat and its parent company Tencent.

Trump's TikTok and WeChat actions ratchet up the pressure on China

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump escalated his campaign to claw apart the Chinese and American tech worlds Thursday evening, issuing executive orders that threaten to ban both TikTok and massive global messaging app WeChat.

The big picture: Trump's orders come against a backdrop of heightening tension with China, the steady unfolding of a hard "decoupling" between the world's two largest economies, and the Trump campaign's effort to wave a "tough on China" banner.

Aug 7, 2020 - Technology

TikTok responds to Trump executive order: "We are shocked"

Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

TikTok said Friday that it was "shocked" by President Trump's executive order that will ban Americans from dealing with ByteDance, its China-based owner, in 45 days.

Why it matters: TikTok argued that Trump's move "risks undermining global businesses' trust in the United States' commitment to the rule of law, which has served as a magnet for investment and spurred decades of American economic growth."