House Panel Approves Bill that Could Ban TikTok

House Panel Approves Bill that Could Ban TikTok

A crucial House committee unanimously voted on Thursday to advance bipartisan legislation that would compel China’s ByteDance to divest TikTok or face a ban in the United States.

Before the 50-0 vote in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, lawmakers received a classified briefing on national security concerns raised by TikTok’s Chinese ownership.

The legislation is widely regarded as the most formidable threat yet to the immensely popular app used by 170 million Americans.

If enacted, the bill would give ByteDance 165 days, or a little over five months, to sell TikTok. Failure to divest by that date would render it illegal for app store operators like Apple and Google to offer it for download. The bill also contemplates similar prohibitions for other apps “controlled by foreign adversary companies.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., expressed support for the bill on Thursday. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., announced plans to send the bill to the House floor. If the full House approves the legislation, it will proceed to the Senate.

The White House has also endorsed the bill, introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Tuesday, intensifying the political pressure on TikTok.

“This bill is important. We welcome this step,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

TikTok, denying any data-sharing with Beijing concerning its U.S. users, initiated a campaign on Thursday warning of the app's potential shutdown in the U.S.

Enraged TikTok users inundated lawmakers with phone calls, urging them not to support the bill. Some users reported on the social media platform X that they were unable to use the app unless they contacted Congress.

In response, the company stated, “This legislation has a predetermined outcome: a total ban of TikTok in the United States. 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.”

The legislation faces a challenging journey ahead, with some lawmakers raising constitutional concerns. Previous legislative attempts to rein in TikTok, including last year’s RESTRICT Act, have faltered. A federal judge blocked a statewide ban in Montana in November, deeming it a violation of users' free speech rights.

Former President Trump surprised Republican China hawks this week by seemingly arguing against banning TikTok, citing potential benefits for competitors like Facebook. This shift coincided with Trump's newly improved relationship with billionaire Jeff Yass, a major financial stakeholder in ByteDance and a supporter of lawmakers backing TikTok. Trump's praise for Yass came shortly before his TikTok stance reversal, leading to speculation about their connection.

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