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Pressure builds on Senate to pass potential TikTok ban

The Senate is facing growing pressure to pass a bill that could ban TikTok after it cleared the House with overwhelming bipartisan support and the blessing of President Biden.

The Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act easily passed the House in a 352-65 vote Wednesday.

The bill would require ByteDance, TikTok’s China-based parent company, to divest itself of TikTok within a roughly five-month window or face a ban on U.S. apps and web hosting services.  

Immediately after it advanced, senators who have been vocal about the risks TikTok poses called for a vote in the upper chamber, and the White House urged “swift action” in the Senate.  

“We are glad to see this bill move forward,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One. 

“We will look to the Senate to take swift action,” she added.  

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the Senate “will review the legislation when it comes over from the House” and did not commit to a course of action.

Schumer has faced pressure from senators in both parties over a lack of floor action on popular bipartisan bills that would tighten rules on Big Tech companies. But the resounding bipartisan vote in the House is emboldening Senate supporters of the House TikTok bill to keep pushing for its passage.

Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the top members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, are leading the push for the bill in the Senate.  

“We are united in our concern about the national security threat posed by TikTok — a platform with enormous power to influence and divide Americans whose parent company ByteDance remains legally required to do the bidding of the Chinese Communist Party,” Warner and Rubio said in a joint statement immediately after the bill passed the House. 

“We 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,” they added.   

The supporters said the divestiture would eliminate risks posed by the Chinese-based parent company potentially gaining access to data about U.S. users.  

TikTok has pushed back on the allegations that it poses national security risks and has urged the Senate to not pass the bill.  

“This process was secret and the bill 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 said in a statement.   

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a fierce critic of China and the tech industry, said the bill should be called for a quick vote.  

“NOW is the time to act on TikTok and stop China spying. The Senate should take up this bill immediately,” Hawley wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.  

But the bill also faces opposition and concern from other senators across party lines. Former President Trump has also come out against the measure and could boost pressure on Republicans to tank it before it gets to Biden.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said in a statement on X that the bill is a “draconian measure that stifles free expression, tramples constitutional rights, and disrupts the economic pursuits of millions of Americans.” 

“This act is not securing our nation — it’s a disturbing gift of unprecedented authority to President Biden and the Surveillance State that threatens the very core of American digital innovation and free expression,” Paul added.  

The bill would also give the president the ability to designate other foreign adversary-controlled apps with ties to China, Russia, North Korea and Iran.  

Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) in a statement said she is “very concerned about foreign adversaries’ exploitation of Americans’ sensitive data and their attempts to build backdoors in our information communication technology and services supply chains.” But she did not indicate support or opposition to the bill the House and Biden have boosted at this time.  

“These are national security threats and it is good members in both chambers are taking them seriously. Following today’s House vote, I will be talking to my Senate and House colleagues to try to find a path forward that is constitutional and protects civil liberties,” Cantwell said in a statement.  

The bill is also facing backlash from progressives, who argue a TikTok ban could limit free speech. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) opposed the bill on those grounds.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who has been vocal in pushing the Senate to update privacy laws to protect kids on social media, indicated he would not vote for the bill and urged the Senate to instead take up his bipartisan update to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). 

“We don’t have only a TikTok problem—we have a Big Tech privacy problem. From Meta to Amazon to Discord, US-owned companies are preying on children & teens for profit. We don’t need to ban TikTok to fix their invasive practices. Passing my COPPA 2.0 is the answer. We must act now,” Markey said in a post on X.

COPPA advanced out of the Senate Commerce Committee in July with bipartisan support but has not been called to a vote. Schumer has also declined to call up other bills that aim to protect children online that have advanced out of the Commerce and Judiciary committees, even after pressure built from a recent hearing that featured the CEOs of TikTok and other platforms.

Some critics of the bill said lawmakers should instead take a broader approach to data privacy and tech regulation that doesn’t singularly target TikTok.  

Experts said the bill, even if it advances out of the Senate and is signed by Biden, may run into the same court challenges that have bogged down previous attempts to ban TikTok — including from Trump.  

Trump’s opposition to a possible TikTok ban came after he met with Jeff Yass, a major GOP donor and investor in TikTok. Trump said Yass did not bring up TikTok during the conversation.  

Although Trump opposed the bill, just 15 House Republicans voted against it.  

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