The bill that could ban TikTok passes in the House

The House voted on Wednesday in favor of a bill to require TikTok to sever its connection with parent company ByteDance or face a ban, moving the legislation forward with surprising speed. President Joe Biden has already said that he would support the legislation, but TikTok faces an uncertain fate as the bill heads to the Senate.

The bill received bipartisan backing with a 352-65 vote.

TikTok said in a statement, “We are hopeful that the Senate will consider the facts, listen to their constituents, and realize the impact on the economy, 7 million small businesses, and the 170 million Americans who use our service.”

The bill’s supporters decline to describe it as a “ban,” but if passed it would create two possible outcomes. In one scenario, TikTok strikes a deal to split with its Chinese ownership within six months and continues to operate in the U.S. under that arrangement. In the more dire outcome, ByteDance refuses to sell TikTok and it becomes illegal for software marketplaces like Apple’s App Store and Google Play to distribute the software in the U.S.

The plan to force ByteDance to sell TikTok began during the Trump administration as an executive order. Oracle and Microsoft both had their hats in the ring at the time, but ultimately the plot to force a sale unraveled as former President Donald Trump left the White House. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella later described the whole ordeal as the “strangest thing I’ve ever worked on.”

Trump has since changed his tune. While maintaining that TikTok still poses a national security risk, Trump now opposes the ban, at least in part because Facebook stands to benefit from seeing its biggest competitor regulated. “Without TikTok, you can make Facebook bigger, and I consider Facebook to be an enemy of the people,” Trump said.

Other Republican legislators echoed Trump’s new stance. Representative Thomas Massie (R-KY) remarked that the bill “could also be named the Facebook Protection and Enhancement Act.”

In opposition, Representative Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-IL) spoke about the impact that the bill could have on creatives and small businesses.

“Creatives, artists, content creators and businesses in my district will get caught in the crossfire of this bill and deserve better than federal overreach as a substitute for a thoughtful and incisive solution,” Kamlager-Dove said on the House floor.

This is similar to the sentiments that TikTok itself has been pushing since last year, when it brought content creators to lobby in the Capitol to oppose a ban.

Regardless of how Wednesday’s vote played out in the House, the bill’s fate in the Senate is yet to be determined. While many of his peers have yet to weigh in, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has stated his opposition to a Senate version of the bill. “I don’t think Congress should be trying to take away the First Amendment rights of [170] million Americans,” Paul told The Washington Post.

With an election around the corner, it’s very possible that the Senate wouldn’t have the appetite for going after TikTok — even with President Biden backing the legislation. Without a companion bill in the Senate, the House’s efforts would be doomed to stall.

China has also previously stated that it would oppose a forced sale of TikTok, which is well within its rights after an update to the country’s export rules in late 2020.

The bill’s quick progress out of committee last week to a full House vote appears to have caught TikTok by surprise. The company scrambled to rally its 170 million U.S. users to its side, sending a message directly through the app that urged them to call their representatives. TikTok CEO Shou Chew also headed to Capitol Hill to drum up opposition to the bill before Wednesday’s vote.

This story is developing…