House panel unanimously advances bipartisan bill that could ban TikTok

House panel unanimously advances bipartisan bill that could ban TikTok

The House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously advanced a bill Thursday that would require TikTok’s China-based parent company ByteDance to divest the app or face a U.S. ban.

The “Protecting Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act,” advanced out of committee with overwhelming bipartisan support just two days after it was introduced by Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), the top lawmakers on the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party.

Although Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the Energy and Commerce ranking member, raised concerns about “how rushed this process has been,” he said he was in support of the bill with the aim of it forcing ByteDance to divest TikTok and allow users in the U.S. to continue to use it.

The aim of the bill is to mitigate national security concerns over whether the Chinese government could access the personal data of Americans who use TikTok through ByteDance.

The committee heard from members of the intelligence community at a classified hearing Thursday morning before the vote on the bill.

TikTok has pushed back strongly on allegations that it poses national security risks based on its ownership by a Chinese parent company.

A TikTok spokesperson said the legislation has a “predetermined outcome: a total ban of TikTok in the United States.”

“The government is attempting to strip 170 million Americans of their Constitutional right to free expression. This will damage millions of businesses, deny artists an audience, and destroy the livelihoods of countless creators across the country,” the spokesperson said

Ahead of Thursday’s vote, TikTok sent messages urging users to call Congress to oppose the bill. The notifications warned users to “stop a TikTok shutdown” and that Congress is “planning a total ban of TikTok.”

Lawmakers in support of the bill have pushed back on that allegation since the bill allows TikTok to continue to be used in the U.S. if ByteDance divests it.

Republicans on the committee also said the notification push to users highlighted their concerns about the app’s reach.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), chair of the Energy and Commerce panel, accused TikTok of using its “influence and powers to force users to contact their representatives.”

A TikTok spokesperson said that the notification was dismissible, meaning it did not require users to call members in order to use the app. The spokesperson declined to comment further on the push.

Although the bill had widespread support in the committee, it is still facing outside opposition from groups that said it could infringe free speech.

Groups that have raised First Amendment concerns about previous bills targeting TikTok, including the ACLU and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, have criticized the new bill for posing the same risks.

“I’m just not confident that this will actually side-step the free speech concerns that have been raised with previous attempts to ban TikTok,” Sarah Kreps, director of the Tech Policy Institute at Cornell University, told The Hill.

“ByteDance has said they will not divest TikTok, so I have no reason to think they would exercise that option,” she said. “So if they’re not going to divest, it leads back down the same road of a ban.”

Kreps said a ban would likely be viewed as unconstitutional given the outcomes of recent legal challenges to state TikTok bans, such as the one that defeated Montana’s law.

Although there are looming questions about the bill’s viability, it appears to be on track for a vote in the House with Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) backing it.

“I support the bill being marked up by the Energy & Commerce committee. It’s an important bipartisan measure to take on China, our largest geopolitical foe, which is actively undermining our economy and security,” the speaker said in a statement.

The White House also called the bill “important and welcome,” but did not endorse it.

Updated at 4:32 p.m.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.