US Congress moves ahead on bill to push TikTok’s Chinese owner to sell

By Thomson Reuters Apr 18, 2024 | 1:03 PM

By Moira Warburton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – An effort to force TikTok’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, to sell the social media app or face a ban in the U.S. was gaining steam in Congress on Thursday, with the House of Representatives setting a vote for Saturday and a key Senate Democrat voicing support for the move.

The Republican-controlled House included the measure in a sweeping $95 billion legislative package that would provide aid to allies including Ukraine and Israel, a major step forward in a months-long push in Washington.

The new bill, which would give ByteDance a year to sell the short-video app, won the support of U.S. Senate Commerce Committee chair Maria Cantwell, whose backing greatly increases the chances of the measure becoming law.

The prior bill passed by the House last month with strong bipartisan support would have allowed ByteDance only six months to sell.

Many lawmakers and President Joe Biden’s administration say TikTok poses national security risks because China could compel the company to share the data of its 170 million U.S. users, while TikTok insists it has never shared U.S. data and never would.

Cantwell had been lukewarm on the initial bill but expressed full-throated support for the version put forward as part of a package negotiated by House Speaker Mike Johnson.

“I’m very happy that Speaker Johnson and House leaders incorporated my recommendation to extend the Byte Dance divestment period from six months to a year,” Cantwell said in a statement. “Extending the divestment period is necessary to ensure there is enough time for a new buyer to get a deal done. I support this updated legislation.”

In a statement, a TikTok spokesperson said it was “unfortunate that the House of Representatives is using the cover of important foreign and humanitarian assistance” to push the bill through.

The company said that limits on the app would violate users’ right to free speech, protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and affect 7 million American businesses that it says use the app.

Cantwell in a March interview with Reuters said she wants legislation to address broad concerns about foreign apps that will hold up in court, adding that she wanted “the strongest possible tool, and we want it to be the most robust tool we can get.”

(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Matthew Lewis)