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Senate plots next moves on TikTok

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Mar 20, 2024
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in the Capitol

Schumer on March 14. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Senators signaled after a classified briefing on Wednesday that their most likely next step on TikTok will be to hold a hearing.

Why it matters: A hearing would signal a slowdown in momentum and could trip up the bill.

State of play: After a swift House vote on a bill that would force the sale of TikTok from its Chinese owner ByteDance or see it banned from app stores, the Senate has been pressured to act quickly.

  • But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has not committed to putting the bill on the floor anytime soon.

What they're saying: "I'm talking to the members of my caucus to decide the best path forward," said Schumer, neither committing to floor action or a hearing on TikTok.

Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell told reporters: "The next steps might be something more public, like a hearing by the [Intel and Commerce Committees] in a joint way. I have to talk to Sen. Mark [Warner] about that to see if that's what he wants to do."

  • "I think it's important to get it right. In this institution we're full of people who want to promote things just to promote them, but they don't have the cause and effect that we need. We need intent here."
  • Warner said: "I'd like to find an opportunity to get the same kind of brief to a broader group of senators... [but] I think if we don't act, we missed a huge opportunity. How many times you get 352 votes for anything in the House?"

Between the lines: Tech legislation often ends up not making it further than the Senate Commerce Committee.

  • Still, Cantwell added that secure bipartisan briefings often result in action.
  • Sen. Marco Rubio: "I think committee processes are always better because I think you get a better product... I don't want this to have unintended consequences, but I also don't want it to miss the objective here."
  • Sen. Mike Rounds: "I do think it should work its way through the appropriate committee so that we can see whether or not the House bill is to be the final bill... But the sooner we address it, the better."

The other side: Some lawmakers want to move as quickly as possible.

  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal said "Americans should be deeply frightened by the TikTok gun aimed at our heads" and that the classified information given to lawmakers should be shared with the public.
  • Sen. Tom Cotton: "Chuck Schumer should bring it up immediately so we can pass a good bill that passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support."

Friction point: Underlying all the TikTok talk is the fact that Congress has largely sidestepped legislation addressing privacy, competition and data sharing on any tech platform.

  • Lawmakers who have been pushing for non-TikTok tech bills haven't forgotten that.
  • Sen. Ed Markey: "I don't think that we should do anything that doesn't also deal with American companies. Talking about it is missing the forest for the trees."
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar: "I have concerns about China owning this major platform, but I think whatever we do, it better be done in a smart way and we should look at what's going on with the other platforms."

Meanwhile, TikTok supporters are still flooding lawmaker offices with calls. Sen. Thom Tillis tweeted out a voicemail to his office threatening violence if TikTok is banned.

  • TikTok responded on X that "clearly, there are millions of Americans who want to speak out against the ban bill that would trample Americans' constitutional rights of free expression, but we must all do so in a respectful, civil manner."
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