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Senate passes possible TikTok ban, sends to Biden who’s expected to sign it

Congress passed legislation Tuesday evening banning or forcing the sale of TikTok, delivering a historic rebuke to the video-sharing platform’s Chinese ownership after years of failed attempts to combat alleged national security risks of the application.

The Senate approved the measure by a 79-18 vote as part of a sprawling package deal. aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, sending the proposal to President Biden’s desk – with the House passing it on Saturday. Biden released a statement minutes after the Senate vote, saying he planned to sign the bill on Wednesday.

Once signed, the provision would give TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, about nine months to sell the wildly popular app or face a nationwide ban, a deadline the president could extend by 90 days.

The move – which has broad bipartisan support – poses the most significant threat yet to the app’s operations in the United States, where it has more than 170 million users and has become an economic and economic powerhouse. cultural. Lawmakers pushing for the restriction have raised concerns that the company’s ownership structure could allow the Chinese government to access Americans’ data, TikTok claims.

TikTok is expected to challenge the measure, setting up a high-stakes and potentially lengthy legal battle that will test the company’s argument that such a law would violate the free speech rights of millions of people. But its frantic efforts to derail the proposal — including urging users to file complaints with their congressional representatives and running ads touting TikTok’s data security efforts days before the final vote — failed. failed to dissuade lawmakers.

“It is regrettable that the House of Representatives is using the guise of significant foreign and humanitarian aid to once again pass a ban bill that would trample the free speech rights of 170 million Americans “, TikTok said in a statement last week.

For half a decade, U.S. lawmakers have scrutinized the relationship between TikTok and Beijing-based ByteDance, fearing that U.S. user data could be vulnerable to Chinese government surveillance. In response, TikTok proposed a plan dubbed Project Texas to protect U.S. data, which would include storing that information with U.S. tech giant Oracle. As negotiations between TikTok and the federal government dragged on, lawmakers reinvigorated legislation granting the executive branch the power to restrict the platform.

“It’s been a long and winding road,” Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), one of the legislation’s biggest supporters in the House, told the Washington Post on Tuesday.

Those efforts intensified last month after a bipartisan group of House lawmakers unveiled and quickly passed a standalone version of legislation to divest or ban TikTok, which gave ByteDance a window more short to sell the platform.

Even though the push seemed emerged within days, members of Congress and Biden administration officials had been working for months to craft the latest bill and expand its base of support, according to interviews with key lawmakers and a half-dozen top aides from Capitol Hill, which the latter spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private negotiations.

In March 2023, lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee called on TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew to testify on the company’s ties to China, a heated session in which lawmakers from across the political spectrum rejected the company’s assurances that it would compartmentalize U.S. user data. of China and take measures to prevent any foreign influence on the platform. Chew’s controversial appearance highlighted several proposals to separate TikTok from ByteDance.

But after even some of the most widely supported bills faced backlash from some Democrats and Republicans, lawmakers on the House Select Committee on China went “back to the drawing board” l last year to find a potential compromise, said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-D). -Ill.), one of the main sponsors of the TikTok legislation that is about to be signed into law.

Krishnamoorthi, the top Democrat on the China Select Committee, and Chairman Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) spent months crafting a framework with leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, limiting the scope of the bill to address concerns that previous iterations have also raised in government. a lot of discretion on which applications to restrict or ban, according to two senior House Republican aides. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) played a key role in bringing together members of various committees that were targeting TikTok to shore up support behind the scenes, one of the aides said. Gallagher and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, were not available for interviews Tuesday.

Months before the bill was introduced, lawmakers brought administration officials into negotiations, several of their aides said, with the Justice Department offering critical input on how lawmakers could avoid the legal challenges to TikTok in making changes to the bill, a leading Republican. » declared the house helpers.

“We said we needed to involve the White House and the Department of Justice as early as possible in the planning so that we could understand the technical challenges associated with developing legislation,” Krishnamoorthi said.

House lawmakers gained support for the bill, in part, by pairing it with legislation banning foreign adversaries from purchasing Americans’ personal information from data brokers, an issue that has come under public scrutiny. radar but has long sparked privacy concerns among top lawmakers, according to two senior House Democratic aides. This proposal, led by Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), was included in the foreign aid package alongside the TikTok bill. If signed, the data brokers bill would be one of the most notable privacy laws passed by Congress in years, where lawmakers have failed to set rules at the national level.

Because of this groundwork, House lawmakers were able to quickly advance the bill out of committee and pass it less than a week after introducing it last month, several aides said.

“The fire appeared to have been extinguished, but the embers were still exceptionally hot,” said Brendan Carr, a Republican on the Federal Communications Commission who has been an outspoken critic of TikTok and has allied himself closely with lawmakers targeting the company .

After the House approved the standalone bill, many senators initially expressed reservations about quickly moving down that path. That included Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who talked about holding hearings on the topic before taking action.

But after congressional leaders updated the bill to give ByteDance more time to divest from TikTok, support grew in the Senate. Cantwell, one of several Democrats who have publicly raised the issue, said in a speech Tuesday that the new deadline would give ByteDance “enough time to allow potential investors to come forward” with an offer to buy the application. Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), Cantwell’s Republican counterpart on the Commerce Committee, on Tuesday called the TikTok provision “incredibly important to our national security.”

Despite this, a group of liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans in both chambers continued to oppose the legislation, fearing that it would give the federal government too much power to restrict businesses or that it would restrict the freedom of online expression, notably Senator Edward J. Markey (Democrat). -Mass.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

Markey spoke “in defense of TikTok users” on the Senate floor Tuesday, warning that the bill “would likely result in the most popular app among young people in this country being blocked.” Markey argued that the chances of the company divesting from ByteDance in a year were “very low.”

Paul, who has blocked some past efforts to target the app, wrote in an op-ed last week that the bill would “violate the First Amendment rights” of TikTok users and “give the government the power to force the sale of other companies. »

Ultimately, lawmakers managed to avoid a potentially lengthy and contentious debate in the Senate by tying the legislation to passage of foreign aid, a cause that already had significant bipartisan support.

“If you had asked me six or three months ago if I could have predicted that this would have been the path to take, I never could have,” Warner said. “Sometimes sausage making really works. »

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