Connect with us


Marathon TikTok Hearing on Capitol Hill



Democrats Divided Over TikTok Ban as Pressure Mounts

A number of House Democrats — and at least a few senators — remain unconvinced that singling out the Chinese-owned app is the best course of action.

Danger of Chinese Influence and Pressure for American Kids

Thursday’s marathon TikTok hearing on Capitol Hill looked a lot like a rare show of unity in a divided Washington: Republicans and Democrats agreeing in public about the dangers of Chinese influence and pressing for the safety of American kids. Their tough grilling of TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew offered political cover for President Joe Biden’s escalating effort to crack down on the popular video-sharing app.

Biden Administration Pushes for Sale or Ban

But when it comes to anything happening next? Don’t hold your breath.

Despite the Republican tilt of Thursday’s hearing, which was convened by the GOP chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Democrats will largely decide what happens next to TikTok. The Biden administration is now demanding that the app’s Chinese owners sell it or face an outright ban on all U.S. devices. And the Democratic-controlled Senate has the most developed bill that would grant the White House more power to restrict TikTok and other risky foreign apps.

But Democrats remain far from united about what to do. As powerful senators push for aggressive action, some of the more tech-savvy Democrats — particularly in the House — are calling for restraint when it comes to a ban. And they’re instead pushing solutions that would also address the privacy and security risks posed by U.S.-based apps.

Democrats Calling for Restraint

“TikTok has become a proxy in the escalating tensions with China,” said Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), a House E&C member who is wary of an outright ban on TikTok. Trahan said Congress “has a responsibility not to fall prey to tribalism or nationalism when it comes to tech policy” — and, she added, “we know there are companies in the U.S. that want TikTok to be banned.”

Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on E&C who peppered Chew with tough questions on Thursday, is also reluctant to back a nationwide ban on the Chinese-owned app. He’d prefer to talk about data privacy legislation instead.

“A lot of the abuses that I see with TikTok stem from the fact that they abuse the data that people have,” Pallone said on Wednesday. “I haven’t said that I’m for or against a ban. But I do think that if you only ban TikTok, you’re just going to see this happen on some other site.”

Concerns of Biden’s Cabinet

The Democrats’ divide might not matter in terms of legislation passed by the House, where Republicans hold the majority. But a fracture on TikTok complicates efforts to present a united front against China, and could provide cover for the small number of influential Senate Democrats who are less gung-ho about a ban. It could also elevate the concerns being raised within Biden’s cabinet. In an interview with Bloomberg News earlier this month, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo worried a TikTok ban would cause Democrats to “literally lose every voter under 35, forever.”

National Security as Trump Card

That argument was made explicit on Wednesday by Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), who emerged this week as TikTok’s top champion on Capitol Hill. Flanked by two of his fellow House Democrats and roughly two dozen TikTok “creators” flown to Washington by the social media giant, Bowman accused Senate Democrats who back a ban of stoking xenophobia and hurting the estimated 150 million Americans who use the app each month. And because TikTok users tend to skew younger, he warned against provoking a backlash that could land disproportionately on the Democratic Party.

“What if those young voters stay home or go Republican?” Bowman said. “Young voters are the reason why we were able to keep things decent — almost even — in 2022 in terms of the House.”

Bowman’s argument — which has become the conventional wisdom in some circles — has far less traction with Democrats in the Senate.

“I think the politics of a TikTok ban are to do the right thing and protect our national security,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). He added that the Biden administration’s new plan to force TikTok’s Chinese owners to sell the app or be banned “ought to be welcomed by everyone — regardless of their age.”

Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) said young voters will always be able to find another app — and that national security always trumps politics. “TikTok is owned by our largest rival, who is right now consorting with Vladimir Putin and the so-called Russian Empire,” Hickenlooper said. “We have to treat them as a serious rival, and that means you don’t let them have access to all our young people are thinking and doing.”

Some Senate Democrats remain skeptical of a TikTok ban, especially if it comes at the expense of broader privacy reforms. “I’m fine with the idea of restricting government phones,not making TikTok available,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). “I do think that this highlights, again, that what’s necessary [is] a comprehensive privacy policy. Because if all you do is TikTok, then you’re giving a huge win to these private data brokers.”

Others appear to be keeping their powder dry. That includes Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who declined to answer questions this week on the wisdom of a TikTok ban. Spokespeople for Cantwell also did not respond to questions on whether Washington should ban the app.

But many Democratic senators are taking a decidedly different approach. After months of relative silence, a growing cadre have joined Republicans in claiming it’s only a matter of time before Beijing uses TikTok to spy on Americans and peddle propaganda.

“The sooner that we ban this, the better,” Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) said during a Thursday appearance on MSNBC.

But Democrats Divided on Whether Ban is Necessary

The national security argument against TikTok is deceptively simple: TikTok is owned by ByteDance, which is headquartered in Beijing. Chinese law requires any company based within China




analytics analytics