House passes bill that could ban TikTok despite resistance from Donald Trump

TikTok claims that banning the app would harm 5 million businesses that rely on the platform.

ByClare Foran, Brian Fung and Haley Talbot, CNNWire
Wednesday, March 13, 2024
House passes bill that could ban TikTok in U.S.
Lauren Glassberg has more on the bill and its ramifications.

WASHINGTON -- The House voted on Wednesday to pass a bill that could lead to a nationwide ban against TikTok, a major challenge to one of the world's most popular social media apps.

The bill would prohibit TikTok from US app stores unless the social media platform - used by roughly 170 million Americans - is spun off from its Chinese parent company, ByteDance. It's not yet clear what the future of the bill will be in the Senate.

Lawmakers supportive of the bill have argued TikTok poses a national security threat because the Chinese government could use its intelligence laws against ByteDance, forcing it to hand over the data of US app users.

RELATED: Here's what TikTok ban could mean for users, businesses ahead of Congress vote

The push to pass the bill came up against headwinds from several different political directions: former President Donald Trump, who was once a proponent of banning the platform, has since equivocated on his position, while Democrats are facing pressure from young progressives among whom TikTok remains a preferred social media platform. TikTok creators and Beijing have responded angrily to the upcoming vote, with China's foreign ministry calling it an "act of bullying."

TikTok has called the legislation an attack on the constitutional right to freedom of expression for its users. It launched a call-to-action campaign within the app, urging users to call representatives in Washington to oppose the bill. Multiple congressional offices have said they've been flooded with calls.

The bill would give ByteDance roughly five months to sell TikTok. If not divested by that time, it would be illegal for app store operators such as Apple and Google to make it available for download.

In a rare show of bipartisanship, the measure advanced unanimously out of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, and President Joe Biden has said he would sign the bill if it makes it to his desk.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday would not commit to holding a vote on the House's TikTok bill, underscoring the uncertainty over what will happen next.

"I'll have to consult and intend to consult with my relevant committee chairmen to see what their views would be," he said.

Trump pushes back on potential TikTok ban

When Trump was president, he supported calls to ban the app, but he appears to have now backed away from that stance, though his rhetoric has at times sent seemingly mixed messages.

In a post on Truth Social last week, Trump expressed opposition to a ban, arguing that if TikTok were out of the picture, Facebook would benefit as he attacked Facebook and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg as an "Enemy of the People."

In a Monday interview with CNBC, Trump said it was a "tough decision" whether the US should ban TikTok and continued to argue that getting rid of it would benefit Facebook, adding that he thought, "Facebook has been very bad for our country."

Trump said he thought TikTok posed a national security threat to the US but said, "You have that problem with Facebook and lots of other companies too," and "There are a lot of people on TikTok that love it."

"There's, you know, a lot of good, and there's a lot of bad with TikTok," Trump said.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who support the bill have argued that it is not a ban.

RELATED: Is TikTok getting banned? House panel unanimously approves bill for nationwide ban

In recent comments to reporters, Wisconsin Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher, who chairs a House select committee on China, rejected characterizations of the bill as a TikTok ban.

"It's not a ban," he said. "It puts the choice squarely in the hands of TikTok to sever their relationship with the Chinese Communist Party. As long as ByteDance no longer owns the company, TikTok can continue to survive. ... the basic ownership structure has to change."

North Carolina Congressman Jeff Jackson, a Democrat who has more than 2.5 million followers on TikTok, voted in favor of the bill.

"I've said repeatedly that ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, needs to sell their shares. The best-case scenario is that TikTok continues to operate but is no longer owned - and potentially controlled - by an adversarial government. That's exactly what this legislation does," he said in a statement.

North Carolina lawmakers and TikTok users react to the proposed law.

Chadwick Cecil has been a long-time user of TikTok.

"I just love that diversity that you could see and just the connectivity that it brought a lot of people," said Cecil.

He disagreed with Wednesday's vote, adding he felt TikTok was being singled out.

"Just in terms of the data stealing, data sharing of the espionage that they're so worried about, that it seems a bit hypocritical of them to just target this one social media site at the expense of all the others," said Cecil.

A Pew Research survey from last year found 38% of Americans favored a ban of the app, with 27% in opposition, and the rest unsure.

TikTok has pushed back on claims from lawmakers that the legislation would provide options for the app.

"This legislation has a predetermined outcome: a total ban of TikTok in the United States," the company wrote in a post on X. "The government is attempting to strip 170 million Americans of their Constitutional right to free expression. This will damage millions of businesses, deny artists an audience, and destroy the livelihoods of countless creators across the country."

TikTok's CEO, Shou Chew, has attempted to schedule 11th-hour meetings with members of Congress. The company also sent letters to multiple House lawmakers on Monday accusing them of mischaracterizing TikTok's call-to-action campaign, saying it is "offensive" for lawmakers to dismiss the views of constituents who have overwhelmed congressional offices with phone calls.

This story and headline have been updated with additional information.

CNN's Kate Sullivan, Morgan Rimmer and Lauren Fox contributed.

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