House passes potential TikTok ban that Biden says he’ll sign

Congress took another step towards banning the popular video sharing app TikTok on Saturday when the House took its second swing at passing legislation to address what lawmakers claim is a national security threat.

The House of Representatives voted 360-58 on a bill that included a provision that would force TikTok’s owner ByteDance to sell the company within a year or see it removed from app stores in the US. It would still allow users to access to app from other sources.

Chinese officials are widely expected to block any attempt by ByteDance to sell the app.

Saturday’s session in the House was a rare weekend effort to pass five pieces of legislation grouped together as part of the House’s attempt to push through a supplemental foreign aid package providing military assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. The TikTok bill was a piece of sidecar legislation that passed with wide bipartisan support, and also included sanctions on Russia and Iran.

One other sidecar addressed on Saturday was an immigration bill which contained several of the conservative priorities outlined in the H.R. 2 bill passed by the Republican House last year. Conservatives had hoped to force Democrats to make some concessions and accept a set of conservative immigration provisions in exchange for passage of aid to Ukraine; instead, Speaker Mike Johnson declared that his caucus did not have the votes to make that demand. The bill was the only legislation to fail on Saturday, having been put under suspension of House rules and not reaching the two-thirds vote threshold required to pass it.

The TikTok ban is the House’s second attempt to ban or force the divestiture of the Chinese-owned app. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill insist that national security legislation in China allow officials in China’s Communist Party (CCP) to access sensitive data about Americans, though no evidence has been presented publicly to support that having taken place.

President Joe Biden has indicated that he would sign a ban on TikTok into law were it to reach his desk.

“If they pass it, I’ll sign it,” he told reporters in March. The bill is likely to pass the Senate in some form with leadership of both parties now in vocal support.

ByteDance will have 12 months to find a buyer or file a court challenge if Mr Biden signs the legislation into law. The company is almost certain to file suit to block the legislation if it is passed. A previous effort to ban the app under the Trump administration failed in court.

TikTok’s CEO Shou Zi Chew vowed to fight the legislation in a video to users posted on TikTok last month. The company also pursued a risky congressional blitz campaign wherein users on the platform were set up with a means of quickly calling their local representative’s office to lodge complaints against the legislation — that stunt led to the greatest single-day flood of calls to many offices in recent memory, according to widespread accounts from staffers. Some lawmakers even said they were disturbed by the effort and further polarised against the company as a result.

“We will not stop fighting and advocating for you,” Mr Chew told his company’s users in March. “We will continue to do all we can, including exercising our legal rights, to protect this amazing platform that we have built with you.”