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What's next for the TikTok sale bill

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Mar 7, 2024
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Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi in May 2023. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday advanced a bill to force Beijing-headquartered ByteDance to sell TikTok.

State of play: Lawmakers unanimously voted 50-0 in favor of the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, sponsored by China Select Committee Chair Mike Gallagher and Ranking Member Raja Krishnamoorthi.

  • Officials from DOJ, the FBI and Office of the Director of National Intelligence met with E&C members in a classified hearing ahead of the markup.
  • The committee also voted unanimously, 50-0, to advance Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers' and Ranking Member Frank Pallone's Protecting Americans' Data from Foreign Adversaries Act, which would stop data brokers from selling sensitive personal information to foreign adversaries.

What's next: The bill, introduced Tuesday, is moving along quickly. Gallagher told reporters on Thursday he wants a floor vote as soon as possible.

  • House Speaker Mike Johnson said he supports the bill being marked up; Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries' office did not respond to a request for comment.

Catch up quick: Lawmakers have been trying to ban or limit TikTok for years over concerns that its alleged ties to the Chinese government pose unique surveillance and disinformation threats.

  • Lawmakers, with the help of administration officials, are trying to avoid the constitutional objections to outright bans by making their legislation about broader types of technology that are considered controlled by a foreign adversary.
  • Sens. Mark Warner and John Thune's RESTRICT Act would prohibit certain U.S. tech product or service transactions with foreign adversaries.

What we're watching: Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi's search for a Senate sponsor.

  • There's "a lot of interest and eagerness" to get companion legislation, Gallagher said, adding "we go through Senate Commerce, I've had discussions with a lot of the members, and we welcome that and hope they could act swiftly."
  • Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell has been working on her own TikTok bill, the GUARD Act, for months, spokesperson Tricia Enright said.

Threat level: CMR said lawmakers have internal recordings in which TikTok says "everything is seen by China."

  • She added: "We know that they've surveilled on American journalists. We also know from private, classified briefings that there's other examples and action needs to be taken."
  • "We have not been asked to share data with China and would not comply if asked," a TikTok spokesperson said.

Yes, but: Warner said he's worried that directly naming ByteDance and TikTok will be problematic, but that he's going to look carefully at the bill and is willing to work with anyone "who takes this threat seriously."

  • Gallagher said of First Amendment concerns: "It's not about shutting down speech. As long as the ownership structure has changed, TikTok can continue and Americans can say whatever the heck they want on the platform."

The other side: TikTok is calling the House bill an "outright ban" even though the bill would allow the app to continue to exist under different ownership.

  • Ahead of the markup, TikTok launched a pop-up campaign urging users to call E&C members to vote no on the bill.
  • "They're getting a lot of calls in their offices. And they were saying that their phones were ringing off the hook last night," Gallagher told reporters Thursday.

The big picture: Efforts to address concerns with TikTok are overshadowed by the fact that Congress still has not passed a federal data privacy law.

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