What’s at stake for TikTok as Congress moves to force a sale

A closely watched House vote on Wednesday passed legislation that poses the biggest threat yet to TikTok’s presence on some 170 million American phones.

The bill in question, which would ban TikTok in the United States if the app’s US operations aren’t sold within six months, sailed out of the House Energy & Commerce Committee last week in a 50-0 bipartisan vote.

The bill then moved to the full House, which voted 352-65 Wednesday to pass the legislation. Now the bill will move to the Senate, where its fate remains up in the air.

A controversial bill that could ban TikTok in the US is headed to the Senate after a House vote on Wednesday. REUTERS

Many lawmakers have warned that TikTok, owned by China-based ByteDance, poses a threat to national security, including Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who said in a statement following the House vote: “Today’s bipartisan vote demonstrates Congress’ opposition to Communist China’s attempts to spy on and manipulate Americans, and signals our resolve to deter our enemies.”

Still, 50 Democrats and 15 Republicans voted against the bill, which would bar companies like Apple or Google from offering TikTok on their app stores or providing the social platform with web hosting services in the US unless ByteDance divests itself within 180 days.

Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), who surprisingly said no to the legislation, cited free speech issues, according to CNBC.

ByteDance has denied that it shares data from American users with the Chinese Communist Party, calling the concerns “misinformation.”

What happens next?

The bill faces an uncertain road in the Senate, where its future remains largely in the hands of Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who has been vague about bringing it to the floor for a vote.

Schumer so far has declined to endorse the bill, saying he would speak with committee leaders first — many of whom have already come out against the bill, which a spokesperson for TikTok told The Post on Wednesday “was jammed through for one reason: It’s a ban.”

“We are 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,” a TikTok spokesperson added.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has yet to endorse the bill, which sailed out of the House Energy & Commerce Committee last week in a unanimous bipartisan vote. REUTERS

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was among those pledging to stand in the way of the bill’s passage.

Americans “choose to use TikTok to express themselves,” Paul said ahead of the House vote Tuesday. “I don’t think Congress should be trying to take away the First Amendment rights of [170] million Americans,” the Washington Post reported.

With President Biden and former President Donald Trump on opposite sides of the debate, Schumer is likely weighing the political ramifications of the bill ahead of the 2024 election and the impact it could have on key Senate races.

Schumer also needs to make sure he has enough votes to pass the bill before bringing it to the floor and risking an embarrassing loss.

With that, the Senate isn’t expected to act as quickly as the House did.

“I tend to think Schumer’s going to sit on it for a little while,” said a former Treasury Department official with Hill experience who spoke on condition of anonymity. “If it does come up for a vote in the Senate, it’ll have to pass, because you just can’t have a bill like this out there being tough on China where you don’t get enough members.”

“For people who are in the upcoming cycle, the [Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown]s of the world and others, it’s going to be tricky.”

“If Schumer brings it up on the floor, if it’s a majority vote, it passes. If it’s some procedure where you have to get 60 votes, I don’t know if I see it. I think Trump will get enough people to stop and say, ‘Well, we love the intention of the bill, but it may have flaws.’”

President Biden has said he would sign the TikTok legislation into law if it reaches his desk. AFP via Getty Images

What if the bill passes the Senate?

Biden has said he would sign it into law if it reaches his desk. 

At that point, app stores like those operated by Apple and Google would be subject to civil penalties if they continued to distribute TikTok.

The app would also lose its ability to update on US phones, meaning it would lose compatibility with the latest versions of iOS and Android and cease to function.

The app is already on millions of phones in the US, but the bill’s passage would force internet service providers to block access to TikTok, according to software-centric blog Lifehacker, effectively shutting down access to the platform whether it’s already on a device or not.

This is exactly how the Indian government went about barring the app, citing national security threats, Lifehacker noted.

There’s one potential loophole, though, Lifehacker noted: Users can change their location on their virtual private network, or VPN, which would make it appear that they’re trying to access TikTok from another country.

More than 170 million Americans alone reportedly use TikTok, many of whom are younger than 30. Getty Images

TikTok could also challenge the ruling, as it did in Montana, when a first-of-its-kind state ban sought to bar the short-form video-sharing app from state residents’ devices.

In November 2023, TikTok won a reprieve in the state, which would have allowed the social media site’s ban to take effect in January.

District Judge Donald Molloy argued that it “likely violated the First Amendment” and “oversteps state power and infringes on the constitutional rights of users” after noting that TikTok’s counsel had better arguments.

Why do some lawmakers want to ban TikTok?

Time and time again, TikTok has been deemed a national security threat.

As recently as Monday, Trump sounded the alarm on the Chinese-owned platform, citing the need to protect the American people’s privacy and data rights.

Upward of 170 million Americans alone use TikTok, many of whom are younger than 30, and reports of the Chinese government stealing data of the app’s users have raised concerns among lawmakers in Washington.

Concerned users have pointed to the app’s odd demands — such as its request for users to input their iPhone passwords to view content — as reason why TikTok may allegedly be spying on its US-based users.

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