TikTok bill that could lead to ban faces uphill climb in the Senate

Washington — A bill that could lead to a ban of TikTok in the U.S. sailed through the House with rapid speed on Wednesday, but is facing headwinds in the slower-moving Senate, where previous efforts to restrict the popular app have stalled. 

The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed the bill, known as the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, in a vote of 352 to 65. The legislation would require TikTok’s parent company, the Beijing-based ByteDance, to sell TikTok within six months to maintain access to U.S. web-hosting services and app stores. 

The bipartisan legislation quickly gained momentum in the House, unanimously advancing out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week. But the bill has also faced a flood of backlash from TikTok’s American users, as well as criticism from lawmakers who say it runs afoul of the First Amendment. 

Legislators on both sides of the aisle have long warned of the risks TikTok poses to national security, saying the Chinese government could use the short-form video app to spy on Americans, spread misinformation or sow division. 

“The problem is not TikTok or the videos,” Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Monday during a hearing on worldwide threats. “The problem is the algorithm that powers it is controlled by a company in China that must do whatever the Chinese Communist Party tells them to do.” 

Opponents of the bill say it could impose limits on free speech by taking away a platform that millions of Americans use to express themselves and get information, while also negatively impacting businesses and creators whose livelihoods rely on it. 

The White House wants the Senate to move quickly on the legislation. 

“We will look to the Senate to take swift action,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, adding that the administration wants the bill to be “on the strongest possible legal footing.” 

The TikTok bill in the Senate

Despite broad agreement about the risks, senators don’t appear to be in a rush to send the House TikTok bill to President Biden, who has vowed to sign it. 

Sen. Kevin Cramer, a Republican from North Dakota, said he would vote for the legislation but predicted that the Senate is unlikely to take action soon.

“It’s hard for me to imagine that it’ll be real fast. We don’t do things fast. We’re designed not to do things fast, so I would think months,” he told reporters when asked about the timeline in the upper chamber.

Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, denounced the “hysteria” around TikTok and said the bill is “inconsistent” with the First Amendment. His opposition means the Senate will have to spend valuable floor time on it. 

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has been noncommittal about bringing it up for a vote. In a one-line statement after its passage in the House, the New York Democrat said the Senate “will review the legislation when it comes over from the House.” Schumer also said this week he would consult with relevant committee leaders “to see what their views would be.” 

In a major endorsement after the House vote, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the bill now has his support. He expressed concern earlier this week about singling out ByteDance and TikTok. 

Warner and Rubio, who discussed the issue on “Face the Nation” over the weekend, said in a statement Wednesday that they 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.” 

TikTok is a “national security issue,” Sens. Mark Warner and Marco Rubio say 18:33

Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat, could determine its fate as the chair of the Senate Commerce Committee. A bipartisan bill known as the RESTRICT Act, which would have given Commerce Department authority to ban or restrict technology coming from U.S. adversaries, has been stuck in the mud since its referral to the committee last year. 

A statement from Cantwell on Wednesday suggested the House bill could end up going the same route. 

“I will be talking to my Senate and House colleagues to try to find a path forward that is constitutional and protects civil liberties,” she said. 

Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said Tuesday he was concerned about the bill’s constitutionality and hadn’t reached a decision about whether TikTok should be banned.

“I think it’s time for them to make a clear break with China in terms of the ownership and management of this company,” said Durbin, who leads the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Overall, the Senate’s reaction to the House bill has been mixed. 

Sen. John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, wants a classified briefing on the issue before making a decision, saying Wednesday, “I’m not there yet.” 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, said “requiring divestment is absolutely well-merited.” 

“The Chinese are collecting information, doing surveillance and making use of TikTok for their national security purposes, and we ought to resist it in a way that the House bill does,” he said Tuesday. 

On Monday, Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said, “I’m not sure that this is the answer,” but called TikTok “a serious national security problem.” He indicated that the bill as currently written may not eliminate the threat. 

“It’s complicated because the Chinese Communist Party is very accomplished at playing whack-a-mole,” he said. “For example, you can eliminate TikTok, but they can open it up tomorrow, TokTik, whatever you want to call it.” 

Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri said Tuesday he would “absolutely” support it, but was doubtful it would get a floor vote. 

“I hope it’ll get a vote on the Senate floor,” he said. “But, as I have long predicted, it sounds to me now like it’s not going to.” 

A TikTok spokesperson said after the House vote that the company was “hopeful that the Senate will consider the facts, listen to their constituents, and realize the impact on the economy, 7 million small businesses, and the 170 million Americans who use our service.” 

In a video Wednesday night, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew said the company will be “exercising our legal rights” and encouraged users to contact their senators “to protect your constitutional rights” and “make your voices heard.” 

Alan He, Alejandro Alvarez and Sara Cook contributed reporting. 

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Caitlin Yilek

Caitlin Yilek is a politics reporter at cbsnews.com and is based in Washington, D.C. She previously worked for the Washington Examiner and The Hill, and was a member of the 2022 Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellowship with the National Press Foundation.

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