Legislation that could force a TikTok ban revived as part of House foreign aid package

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Legislation that could ban TikTok in the U.S. if its China-based owner doesn’t sell its stake won a major boost late Wednesday when House Republican leaders included it in a package of bills that would send aid to Ukraine and Israel. The bill could be law as soon as next week if Congress moves quickly.

The TikTok legislation, which passed the House in March and has widespread support in both chambers, was included in the House foreign policy package after negotiations with the Senate over how long the Chinese technology firm ByteDance Ltd. would have to sell its stake for the app to continue operating in the United States. President Joe Biden has said he would sign the TikTok legislation if it reaches his desk.

The House legislation also won a key endorsement Wednesday from Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell, who said in a statement that she had successfully pushed to extend the period from six months to a year to give the company enough time to find a buyer. While the original legislation had a six-month deadline for TikTok to be sold, the new House bill would give nine months and a possible three-month extension if a sale was in progress.

“Extending the divestment period is necessary to ensure there is enough time for a new buyer to get a deal done,” said Cantwell, who had previously expressed doubts about the bill. ”I support this updated legislation.”

If Congress passes the TitkTok legislation, it would be an extraordinary and unusual moment in which both parties unite against one company – something lawmakers are usually reluctant to do. But the popular social media app has prompted widespread outrage on Capitol Hill, where there is bipartisan concern about Chinese threats to the United States and where few members use the platform themselves.

Opponents say they believe the ban would be unconstitutional. Since the House passed the legislation last month, there has been aggressive pushback from the company, content creators who make money on the app and some of the platform’s 170 million U.S. users, many of whom are young. In some cases, lawmakers have received profanity-laced calls from users who were prompted by the app to call their representatives in Congress.

To date, the U.S. government has not provided evidence that shows TikTok shared U.S. user data with the Chinese government, or that Chinese authorities have tinkered with the company’s popular algorithm, which influences what Americans see.

Since mid-March, the company has spent $5 million on TV ads opposing the legislation, according to AdImpact, an advertising tracking firm. The ads have included a range of content creators, including a nun, extolling the positive impacts of the platform on their lives and arguing a ban would trample on the First Amendment.

TikTok, which declined to comment on how much it was spending on TV ads, has also spent money on Facebook and Instagram ads that, among other things, talk about investments in data safety. The company has also mounted a lobbying campaign in Washington that included flying in content creators who rely on the platform for income.

Alex Haurek, a spokesman for the company, said in a statement Thursday that “It is unfortunate that the House of Representatives is using the cover of important foreign and humanitarian assistance to once again jam through a ban bill that would trample the free speech rights of 170 million Americans, devastate 7 million businesses, and shutter a platform that contributes $24 billion to the U.S. economy, annually.”

Passage of the bill would be the most significant step Congress has taken in decades to regulate the tech industry. For years Congress has failed to act on bills that would protect users’ privacy, protect children from online threats, make companies more liable for their content and put loose guardrails around artificial intelligence, among other things.

Still, it is a narrow shot at one company when many lawmakers would like to see broader change. A bipartisan group of senators has been pushing a Senate bill to protect kids online, and Cantwell recently struck an agreement with the Republican chairwoman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, on legislation to protect Americans’ data privacy.

While most lawmakers support the TikTok bill, some have said it would set a dangerous precedent.

“The passage of the House TikTok ban is not just a misguided overreach; it’s a draconian measure that stifles free expression, tramples constitutional rights, and disrupts the economic pursuits of millions of Americans,” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul posted on X after the House passed it.

Others are defending the app’s loyal users.

“I am a NO on the TikTok bill we are about to vote on,” Florida Rep. Maxwell Frost posted on X before the House vote. At 27, Frost is much younger than most of his colleagues.

“I believe the bill does set TikTok up to be banned,” Frost said. “There are first amendment issues I see with taking away a platform that over 170 million American’s use, and this won’t fix the serious issues we have with data privacy.”

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