A push to ban TikTok in the U.S. picked up more supporters on Tuesday, with the Biden White House and a bipartisan group of 12 senators offering their endorsements.
President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said the latest bipartisan bill that would block TikTok, called the RESTRICT Act, will help “address the threats we face today, and also prevent such risks from arising in the future.”
“We look forward to continue working with both Democrats and Republicans on this bill, and urge Congress to act quickly to send it to the President’s desk,” Sullivan said in a statement issued by the White House.
During a news conference on Tuesday, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota and other senators emphasized that their RESTRICT Act isn’t just about blocking TikTok, but rather it’s about having a broad strategy to protect national security.
“Instead of playing whack-a-mole on Huawei one day, ZTE
the next, Kaspersky, TikTok — we need a more comprehensive approach to evaluating and mitigating the threats posed by these foreign technologies from these adversarial nations,” said Warner, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee. He had said Sunday that his bill would be coming this week.
“We’ve got 12 senators at this point as initial co-sponsors, and I can assure you we’ve sparked a lot of interest from other senators, as well as from a number of our friends in the House on both the Republican and Democratic sides,” Virginia’s senior senator added.
The measure would give Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo new abilities to ban foreign technologies on national-security grounds.
Besides the bill from Warner and Thune, there is a similar measure aimed at TikTok from Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, as well as another one from GOP Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas.
Could Congress actually ban TikTok in the U.S.?
BTIG’s director of policy research, Isaac Boltansky, said in an email Tuesday that the “odds of a bill making it to the president’s desk are modestly higher now because of this Warner bill and his stature in the party.”
But he also said BTIG “still can’t say that a legislative ban is likely,” after starting the year “bearish on legislative efforts to ban TikTok.”
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is slated to make his first appearance before a congressional committee on March 23, when he testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Boltansky said the hearing will be “a must-watch event as it could directly impact the sense of urgency around this topic on Capitol Hill.”
“Hearings seldom have an immediate impact on anything, but a bad hearing from the TikTok CEO could move these TikTok bills higher on the agenda,” the BTIG analyst told MarketWatch.
During Tuesday’s news conference, Warner was asked about a recent comment about a potential TikTok ban made by Raimondo, who said: “The politician in me thinks you’re gonna literally lose every voter under 35, forever.”
“I will trust that the vast majority of us, regardless of party, will do the right thing, and I would never underestimate the ability of American technology to provide like-kind products with better protections,” Warner said, regarding Raimondo’s comment.
A ban on TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd., could help U.S. social-media players such as Snapchat parent Snap Inc.
Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc.
and YouTube parent Alphabet Inc.
while software giant Oracle Corp.
— which counts TikTok as a customer — could be hurt, according to a recent note from analysts at Height Capital Markets.
A recent Wall Street Journal report described TikTok as the world’s most popular app, used by two-thirds of American teens, and noted that its addictive short-video format has left Silicon Valley companies scrambling to play catch-up.