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Inside TikTok's Hill plans this week

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Mar 11, 2024
Illustration of the US Capitol with TikTok's logo.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

TikTok staffers and creators will spend a lot of time on Capitol Hill this week trying to fend off a fast-moving bill that could lead to the app being banned in the United States.

The big picture: TikTok — which has been bolstering its Washington presence the past few years, hiring lobbyists and policy staff from other tech companies — is facing one of its toughest battles yet.

  • "We have a tough road in front of us, but we want members of Congress to understand the facts before they vote on a bill that will adversely impact 170 million Americans," Michael Bloom, director of government relations for TikTok, told Axios.

Driving the news: The House will vote Wednesday on a bill that would force ByteDance, TikTok's Chinese parent company, to sell the app within 165 days.

  • The measure is coming to the floor under suspension of the rules, which means it needs 2/3 of the vote to pass.
  • President Biden said he would would sign the bill, but the Senate is still a major hurdle.

Behind the scenes: TikTok government affairs staffers will visit House offices this week, along with creators coming in over the next couple of days, though the company does not expect to change the outcome of the vote, a TikTok spokesperson said.

  • TikTok creators will visit their own representatives' offices to talk about what the app means to them, said the spokesperson.
  • TikTok's government affairs shop will also focus on lawmakers who aren't on tech-minded committees.
  • Creators are hopeful members of the Senate will be open-minded in meetings this week, the spokesperson said.

Since 2022, TikTok has been going back and forth with CFIUS on Project Texas, its attempt to mitigate national security data concerns via separating out all U.S. user data to live on Oracle servers.

  • TikTok has repeatedly pointed to Project Texas as the solution when faced with bills from Congress that could lead to a ban.
  • After conditional approval of the Project Texas plan in August 2022, talks between CFIUS and TikTok resumed in spring 2023, but the two parties have not met in the past few months, per a source familiar with the discussions.
  • TikTok has gone forward with its Project Texas plans and both TikTok and Oracle said all U.S. user data is stored by default in the Oracle cloud.

Context: 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.

  • "China has used its substantial investment power to lead or dominate a range of key industries," including with social media and TikTok, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Mark Warner, who sponsored a different bill to crack down on the app that's been languishing in the Senate, said at the worldwide threats hearing Monday.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee moved quickly last week, unanimously voting 50-0 to advance the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act just days after its introduction.

What they're saying: While TikTok appeals to Congress, lawmakers continue to argue that the app is unsafe because China requires its companies to hand over, on request, any personal data relevant to the country's national security.

  • TikTok has repeatedly said all U.S. user data is stored by Oracle, an American company.

Our thought bubble: House and Senate lawmakers will have to paint a consistent picture of what makes the app a threat to average Americans ahead of any final bill passage.

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