Rift emerges in GOP over TikTok ban

Congress TikTok
People calling for the banning of TikTok, the hugely popular video-sharing app, attend a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, March 23, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Rift emerges in GOP over TikTok ban

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A rift is emerging in the once-solid Republican opposition to TikTok as a handful of GOP lawmakers break with their colleagues to reject an outright ban on the Chinese-owned app.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) on Wednesday tried to force a vote on legislation that would prohibit the social media app from being downloaded on U.S. devices, but that effort was blocked by a member of his own party who expressed concerns an outright ban would violate free speech protections. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) objected to the motion, arguing such a move would “emulate” Chinese censorship.

GROWING OPPOSITION TO TIKTOK BAN EMERGES AMONG DEMOCRATIC LAWMAKERS

“I hope saner minds will reflect on which is more dangerous: videos of teenagers dancing or the precedent of the US [government] banning speech,” Paul said in a tweet. “I will defend the Bill of Rights against all comers, even, if need be, from members of my own party.”

Hawley sought to hold a vote on the No TikTok on United States Devices Act on Wednesday, urging his colleagues to fast-track the legislation to send a “message to Communist China that you cannot buy us.” The bill is separate from another bill making its way through Congress called the RESTRICT Act, which would allow the U.S. government to ban or restrict any app that is based in foreign countries.

The bipartisan RESTRICT Act has garnered more criticism from some corners of the GOP, including several prominent conservative news hosts such as Tucker Carlson and Jesse Watters.

Carlson hit out against the legislation on Monday, arguing it would give “enormous and terrifying new powers” to the federal government while regulating how people can communicate with one another.

“You would be allowing the executive branch, the Biden administration, to regulate speech on the internet, and if you are somehow involved with a ‘foreign adversary’ or let’s say you oppose the war against Russia, you’re going to prison for 20 years,” Carlson said. “So, this isn’t about banning TikTok. This is about introducing flat-out totalitarianism into our system.”

Watters also criticized the proposal during a segment on Wednesday, claiming the legislation would allow the federal government to “watch everything you do on the internet.”

“The bill doesn’t even say the word ‘TikTok,’” he said.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle largely agree something must be done to address the security concerns surrounding TikTok. However, Congress remains split on exactly how to do that.

Meanwhile, a growing coalition of lawmakers has emerged in the halls of Congress as several Democrats have banded together to fight a proposed ban, arguing the social media platform is crucial to maintain free speech and help small businesses.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) is leading the charge to fight a possible ban as he appeared alongside content creators on Wednesday to defend the app and argue for its protection. The New York Democrat denounced efforts to ban the social media platform, rejecting arguments that the app poses national security risks as “fearmongering.”

Bowman also warned that a TikTok ban could endanger lawmakers politically, pointing to the app’s popularity among young voters — a crucial voting bloc for the Democratic Party. A handful of lawmakers, including Bowman himself, have a large following on the social media platform, with many using the short videos to connect with voters during the midterm elections.

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The Biden administration has threatened action against the popular app, demanding its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, divest or have the platform banned. President Joe Biden already signed a bipartisan bill late last year banning the app from government-owned devices, and he has expressed support for legislation to further regulate or ban foreign platforms.

However, Biden himself has been in several of the app’s short videos, even as recent as St. Patrick’s Day when he appeared alongside singer Niall Horan. When asked about the post last week, National Security Council coordinator John Kirby said the White House stands by its national security concerns.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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