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Progress on TikTok bill slows in Senate

After a bill that would force TikTok's Chinese parent company to sell the app or face a nationwide ban sailed through the house at breakneck speed this week, its progress has slowed in the Senate.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader who determines what legislation will pass, has not decided whether to submit the bill, his spokesman said. Senators – some of whom have their own version of the bills targeting TikTok – will need convincing. Other legislation on the track could take priority. And the process of taking the House bill and potentially rewriting it to fit the Senate could take a long time.

Many senators are keeping their cards close to their vest about what they would do regarding the TikTok measure, even as they said they recognize that the House sent a powerful signal with its vote on the bill, which passed by 352 votes to 65. The legislation requires that TikTok's parent company ByteDance will sell its stake in the app within six months or face a ban.

“The lesson of the House vote is that this issue is capable of almost spontaneously igniting because of the support it has,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, said in an interview Friday. He said adjustments could be made to the bill, but that there was bipartisan support for wresting enforcement away from Chinese ownership.

The Senate slowdown means TikTok may face weeks, if not months, of uncertainty over its fate in the United States. This could lead to continued lobbying, alongside maneuvers from the White House, the Chinese government and ByteDance. It's also likely to spark possible discussions about deals — real or imagined — while the uncertainty of losing access to the app looms over the heads of TikTok's creators and its 170 million U.S. users.

“Almost everything is going to slow down in the Senate,” said Nu Wexler, a former Senate aide who has worked for Google, Twitter and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram. “They will need some time to massage their egos or to reach a consensus.”

The House approved the bill just over a week after it was introduced, passing it with bipartisan support amid concerns that enforcement would endanger the United States. user data or be used as Chinese propaganda tool. The bill also received support from the White House. After saying last week While he opposed the legislation, former President Donald J. Trump said he now supports it in an interview with Fox News on Friday.

The bill drew anger from China, with one official saying the US had “never found any evidence that TikTok posed a threat to US national security”. Beijing could decide to block a sale if the legislation is passed. Some lawmakers worry the bill could overstep Congress's mandate by specifically mentioning TikTok, which would run afoul of a constitutional ban on targeting individuals in the laws. And TikTok argued that the secret drafting of the bill and the speed with which it passed the House suggested that lawmakers were aiming for a ban rather than a sale.

TikTok, which has repeatedly said it does not have and will not share data with the Chinese government or allow any government to influence its algorithmic recommendations, rushed to respond to the bill, which which took the company by surprise.

On Wednesday, Shou Chew, TikTok's general manager in Singapore, released a video addressing users, saying a ban on the service would hurt small businesses in the United States. He urged them to call their senators and fight back. (The company I did the same thing with House representatives last week.)

Tic Tac spent more than a billion dollars on a broad plan known as Project Texas — because of its partnership with Austin-based Oracle — that aims to manage sensitive U.S. user data separately from the rest of the company's operations. The plan also calls for independent and government oversight of the platform to monitor any manipulation.

Searching for “KeepTikTok” on the app on Friday brought up a banner asking Americans to “Tell your senator how important TikTok is to you.” The message asked users to enter their zip code and then informed them of the correct lawmaker to call.

“We continue to educate our community members about the rushed ban bill, how it would trample on their constitutional right to free expression, and how they can make their voices heard,” said Alex Haurek , spokesperson for TikTok, in a press release.

Senate offices have received hundreds of phone calls and voicemails about the bill from TikTok users in recent days, said two Senate aides, who were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter. these calls. Aides said many of the calls appeared to come from minors.

The White House is also lobbying behind the scenes, surprising some talent agencies that represent TikTok creators on Friday by inviting them to a briefing “regarding ownership of the social media platform,” according to an email received by two participants, who spoke on condition of anonymity. because the call was unofficial.

John F. Kirby, the president's national security communications adviser, noted that the White House was seeking to divest TikTok to a group of representatives from talent agencies like CAA and Viral Nation, participants said. Several questions were asked about how agency clients and their jobs would be affected by the legislation, they said. A White House spokesperson declined to comment on the call.

Congressional experts said the Senate would likely be harder to break because its small number of individual members were more likely to try to put their own stamp on legislation. Just one member opposing a measure could make it difficult to fast-track legislation. And he also still has to consider and pass a major package of spending bills before the partial government shutdown deadline.

“I think the senators are going to do their due diligence,” said Lindsay Gorman, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund. “There's going to be a rigorous conversation about this very question: whether we should just move or whether there's room to tinker.”

Some senators spoke in favor of the bill. The leaders of the Intelligence Committee, Senators Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, and Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said in a statement Wednesday that they would support advancing the bill in the Senate.

Mr. Warner, who also has his own TikTok proposal, said Wednesday that he was still asking questions about various elements of the bill but was encouraged by the momentum it had generated in the House.

“There are a lot of bases that need to be hit,” Mr. Warner said. But, he added, it was “hard to imagine anything else that received more than 350 votes in a House that otherwise did not have a reputation for fully functioning.”

Others were more circumspect. Mr. Blumenthal said in the interview that the Senate needs to review some aspects of the bill, adding that a six-month time frame to reach a sales agreement may not be enough.

He also said he had “heard of a number of very credible and important groups” who were interested in buying TikTok but had not yet been reported in the press.

“There is a clear path to reach all interests here: preserving TikTok but simply putting it in different hands,” he added.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, will likely have influence over whether the Senate votes on the bill. She said last year that she was drafting her own legislation to deal with TikTok, and she was noncommittal about whether she would support a vote on the House legislation. She said in a statement after it passed the House that she planned to work with her colleagues to “try to find a path forward that is constitutional and protects civil liberties.”

A spokeswoman for the Commerce Committee declined to make Ms. Cantwell available for an interview.

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