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National News

Bill to split TikTok from Chinese ownership gets unanimous vote from key U.S. House panel

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Ashley Murray, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
March 7, 2024

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers on the powerful U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously approved a White House-supported bill that would force TikTok to split from its Chinese parent company or face prohibition from U.S. app stores and web hosting services.

Members voted 50-0 Thursday to advance the Protect Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, legislation that would make it illegal for U.S. entities to distribute, maintain or update apps or other immersive technology owned by ByteDance.

The wildly popular social media platform has long been a concern of Congress and intelligence officials. Lawmakers passed legislation in December 2022 banning the app from most federal employee devices. The Montana legislature banned the app last year, but the law remains in legal limbo.

The bill received sweeping support because of national security concerns over China, a major U.S. adversary, having access to Americans’ data and a grip on their attention spans. Chinese companies can be made to share sensitive information with that country’s government.

The legislation has moved at an unusually fast pace, only having been introduced in the House Tuesday. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana said he plans to bring the bill to the floor as early as next week.

Committee members sat in a multi-hour classified hearing with U.S. intelligence officials before Thursday’s vote. During the hearing, the lawmakers “witnessed firsthand, in real time, how the Chinese Communist Party can weaponize platforms like TikTok to manipulate the American people,” Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Washington Republican, said in her opening remarks.

The Biden administration worked with lawmakers from both parties to craft the bill and “want to see this bill get done so it can get to the president’s desk,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Wednesday.

Despite the administration’s support for the bill, President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign joined TikTok less than a month ago.

Thursday’s scheduled vote set off a frenzy among TikTok users, whom the company urged to contact Congress. Lawmakers’ offices were flooded with calls, many from young people.

TikTok, which boasts 170 million American users and almost 7,000 U.S. employees, maintains the bill, if enacted, would result in an outright ban of the platform.

“This legislation has a predetermined outcome: a total ban of TikTok in the United States,” a spokesperson for TikTok said in an emailed statement Thursday. “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.”

Both the White House and House Republicans disagreed with TikTok’s accusation of a ban.

“We don’t see this as banning these apps — that’s not what this is — but by ensuring that their ownership isn’t in the hands of those who may do us harm. This is about our national security, obviously, and this is what we’re focused on here,” Jean-Pierre said Wednesday.

The legislation empowers the president, in conjunction with executive branch agencies, to determine when a divestiture or other transaction “would result in the relevant covered company no longer being controlled by a foreign adversary” — in other words, when TikTok has severed financial ties with ByteDance.

post on X from the U.S. House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party said the panic among users Thursday showed “clear demonstration of how TikTok gives an adversary political power on U.S. soil.”

“TikTok is LYING to the American people about our bill. It does not ban the app, but offers them a pathway to remain in the U.S.,” read the post from the committee chaired by Wisconsin Republican Mike Gallagher, one of the bill’s original sponsors.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.