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House easily overcomes objections to pass TikTok bill

Action moves to Senate, where members have been cautious about endorsing the measure

Shou Zi Chew, CEO of TikTok, arrives to testify during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in January.
Shou Zi Chew, CEO of TikTok, arrives to testify during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in January. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The House voted 352-65 to pass legislation that would force TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance to divest the company or lose access to more than 170 million U.S. users, easily overcoming opposition of those who feared that the measure would violate First Amendment rights or give the president unchecked powers.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which voted 50-0 to bring the bill to the House floor, said on the House floor that the legislation is aimed at the Chinese Communist Party for using TikTok to “manipulate tens of millions of people to further its agenda.”

Passage of the measure would “send a clear message that we will not tolerate our adversaries weaponizing our freedoms against us,” Rodgers said.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., the top Democrat on that committee, said the bill’s intention is no different from U.S. efforts in the past of restricting “our TV and radio airwaves from ownership by foreign governments and individuals.” Social media companies “should also face similar scrutiny,” he said.

Forcing ByteDance to divest TikTok is only the first step in protecting Americans’ privacy and Congress must pass federal legislation on data privacy, Pallone said.

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who opposed the bill, said the measure’s backers were well intentioned but failed to take into account likely consequences.

Backers of the legislation “described TikTok as a Trojan Horse, but some of us feel that either intentionally or unintentionally this legislation to ban TikTok is actually a Trojan Horse,” Massie said before the vote.

The bill could violate Americans’ First Amendment rights by denying them access to information they are entitled to have, he said. “Some of us just don’t want the president picking which apps we can put on our phones or which websites that we can visit,” Massie said.

Massie said that while the bill’s backers were concerned about Chinese surveillance, lawmakers hadn’t done enough to address U.S. government surveillance of Americans and called for legislation that would prohibit that from U.S. spy agencies without warrants.

The measure now goes to the Senate where several members have said they want to examine the constitutionality of the measure before voting on it.

Others, including Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the top Republican on the committee, and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who serves on the intelligence panel, have raised alarms about TikTok and the way Beijing could weaponize the app.

“We are united in our concern about the national security threat posed by TikTok — a platform with enormous power to influence and divide Americans whose parent company ByteDance remains legally required to do the bidding of the Chinese Communist Party,” Warner and Rubio said in a joint statement Wednesday. “We were encouraged by today’s strong bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives, and look forward to working together to get this bill passed through the Senate and signed into law.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, has said she is concerned about the national security implications of a Chinese-owned app being used by hundreds of millions of Americans, but also wanted to closely examine the free-speech implications of the House measure before deciding on the next steps. 

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