House passes TikTok ban amid China security concerns; Hawley urges Senate to do the same

TikTok | Unsplash/Kon Karampelas

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill that would ban TikTok nationwide until its China-based owner sells its stake in the social media platform.

The House, whose votes are often divided along political party lines, voted 352-65 on Wednesday in favor of the bill, which seeks to combat "the threat posed by foreign adversary controlled applications, such as TikTok and any successor application or service and any other application or service developed or provided by ByteDance Ltd. or an entity under the control of ByteDance Ltd."

Proponents of the legislation argue that ByteDance, which owns TikTok, is required by Chinese law to hand over information requested by the government and thus can be used to gather intelligence data on American citizens.

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"We have given TikTok a clear choice," said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., in a statement. "Separate from your parent company ByteDance, which is beholden to the CCP (the Chinese Communist Party), and remain operational in the United States, or side with the CCP and face the consequences. The choice is TikTok's."

Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, who has championed legislation against TikTok in the past, expressed support for the House vote, declaring that the Senate "should take up this bill immediately."

"NOW is the time to act on TikTok and stop China spying," he tweeted. 

An official with China's Foreign Ministry accused the U.S. lawmakers of "bullying."

"If the pretext of national security can be used to suppress excellent companies from other countries arbitrarily, there is no fairness or justice to speak of," spokesperson Wang Wenbin said during a news briefing in Beijing, according to NBC News

Former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who heads Liberty Strategic Capital, announced Thursday that he is putting together an investor group that hopes to purchase TikTok. 

“I think the legislation should pass and I think it should be sold,” Mnuchin told CNBC’s “Squawk Box. "It’s a great business and I’m going to put together a group to buy TikTok."

Last May, Montana became the first state to pass a law banning the app altogether by prohibiting mobile application stores in the state from offering TikTok as an application.

"The Chinese Communist Party using TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private, and sensitive information is well-documented," said Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte at the time.

"Today, Montana takes the most decisive action of any state to protect Montanans' private data and sensitive personal information from being harvested by the Chinese Communist Party."

In March, TikTok CEO Shou Chew testified before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, objecting to the claim that his business worked for the Chinese government.

"TikTok is led by an executive team in the United States and Singapore and has global offices, including in Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, Nashville, New York, Washington, D.C., Dublin, London, Paris, Berlin, Dubai, Singapore, Jakarta, Seoul, and Tokyo. Our headquarters are in Los Angeles and Singapore. TikTok is not available in mainland China," Chew claimed in written testimony.

"TikTok, as a U.S. company incorporated in the United States, is subject to the laws of the United States. TikTok has never shared, or received a request to share, U.S. user data with the Chinese government. Nor would TikTok honor such a request if one were ever made."

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