U.S. House votes to ban TikTok unless it is sold by China-controlled parent

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The U.S. House on March 13, 2024, passed a bill that effectively bans TikTok unless the company splits from its Chinese owner ByteDance because of national security concerns. In this 2020 photo illustration, the TikTok app is displayed on an Apple iPhone. (Photo Illustration by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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By Ashley Murray, Iowa Capital Dispatch

Washington — The U.S. House on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a bill that effectively bans TikTok unless the company splits from its Chinese owner ByteDance because of national security concerns.

The 352-65 vote occurred just a week after lawmakers introduced the bipartisan proposal and days after the powerful House Committee on Energy and Commerce unanimously advanced the legislation, an unusual speed for the 118th Congress. All four of Iowa’s Republican representatives voted for the bill.

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The bill required a two-thirds majority because House leadership placed it on the floor under a fast-track procedure called suspension of the rules.

The bill, dubbed the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, now heads to the Senate, where concerns over singling out a private company in legislation may slow momentum.

President Joe Biden, whose administration had a hand in crafting the bill, is expected to sign the measure if the upper chamber approves it.

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Despite broad support across the aisle, the legislation has been met by fierce opposition from TikTok users — totaling some 170 million in the U.S. — and from a coalition of young House lawmakers.

“Not only am I a ‘no’ on tomorrow’s TikTok ban bill, I’m a ‘Hell no,’” Rep. Maxwell Frost of Florida said at a Tuesday press conference, questioning which companies are large enough to acquire TikTok. Frost is the youngest member of Congress at 27.

“Essentially what this bill is doing is setting this wholesale up to fail,” he said.

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Users of the wildly popular social media platform flooded lawmakers’ offices with thousands of calls Thursday after the company sent a push notification warning that a ban could be imminent, an argument the company maintains.

Supporters from both parties refute that claim.

“The legislation before the Congress does not ban TikTok. It is designed to address legitimate national security and privacy concerns related to the Chinese Communist Party’s engagement with a frequently used social media platform,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat, said in a statement Wednesday.

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“If enacted, the bill would require divestiture by ByteDance and the sale of TikTok to an American company,” he continued.

Divestiture deadline set 

The bill gives TikTok 180 days to splinter from ByteDance and will make it unlawful for any American app store or web hosting company to distribute or maintain platforms controlled by designated U.S. adversaries.

The social media platform, 100% owned by ByteDance, has long been in the crosshairs of federal and state lawmakers, whom intelligence officials have warned of the possibility of China’s government accessing Americans’ data via the app.

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 tied up in court.

Former President Donald Trump issued an executive order in 2020 banning TikTok unless it broke from ByteDance. This week Trump reversed his position on the platform, telling CNBC that “without TikTok you’re going to make Facebook bigger.”

Some Republican lawmakers have fallen in line with Trump’s argument, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who said on the floor Wednesday before the vote she worries that Congress could open a “Pandora’s box” and target other platforms like X.

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Greene said her “free speech” was “restored” when Elon Musk purchased Twitter and reinstated her account.

“This is really about controlling Americans’ data,” said Greene on the floor before the vote.

The bill’s original sponsor, Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, said from the floor that he wanted to clear up “misconceptions” of the bill ahead of the vote.

“It does not apply to American companies,” the chair of the House Select Committee on China said and later posted on X from his office’s account.

“It only applies to companies subject to the control of foreign adversaries defined by Congress. It says nothing about election interference and cannot be turned against any American social media platform. It does not impact websites in general. The only impacted sites are those associated with foreign adversary apps, such as TikTok.com.”

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