US House Advances TikTok Ban Legislation Amidst Aid Package Approval

Feature and Cover US House Advances TikTok Ban Legislation Amidst Aid Package Approval

The United States is inching closer to potentially banning TikTok as House lawmakers greenlighted a contentious bill in a sweeping aid package aimed at supporting Israel and Ukraine. With a bipartisan vote of 360-58, this move represents yet another setback for TikTok in Washington. The social media giant, currently under the ownership of ByteDance, its Chinese parent company, is grappling with the threat of being ousted from the US market, where it boasts a user base of 170 million.

The legislation adopted by the House over the weekend mirrors an earlier version from March, proposing to remove TikTok from American app stores unless it undergoes a change in ownership promptly. By bundling the TikTok measure with funding for Ukrainian military gear and Israeli missile defense, House Republicans are exerting pressure on Senate counterparts to address the entire package in a single decisive vote.

Experts anticipate swift action from the Senate on the aid package, raising expectations for its approval. President Joe Biden has signaled his willingness to endorse the TikTok legislation if it crosses his desk. This accelerated push underscores how external policy imperatives have converged to pose a significant and potentially dire threat to an app cherished by many American youths but viewed by US authorities as a national security hazard.

The latest version of the bill, if enacted, grants TikTok a 270-day window to secure a new proprietor, an extension from the approximately six months initially proposed. Moreover, it affords the White House the discretion to prolong this deadline by an additional 90 days if progress toward a sale is evident.

TikTok has vehemently opposed the legislation, launching an extensive lobbying campaign in an effort to thwart its passage. The company argues that the bill encroaches upon the First Amendment rights of its users and jeopardizes small enterprises. In a statement posted on X, TikTok lamented the House’s decision, lambasting it as a move that would stifle free speech, disrupt millions of businesses, and dismantle a platform contributing $24 billion annually to the US economy.

Hinting at potential legal action to challenge the divestiture legislation, TikTok has vowed to continue its fight, invoking its legal prerogatives. A legal showdown over the law could set the stage for a high-stakes clash over Americans’ access to digital content.

While Senate lawmakers had been divided on the House’s proposal for a forced TikTok sale, sentiment shifted somewhat with the unveiling of the latest draft featuring an extended deadline. In the run-up to the House vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer stressed the urgency of approving foreign aid. Schumer disclosed a tentative agreement for the Senate to consider the foreign aid package on Tuesday, suggesting a growing momentum behind the legislation.

Paul Gallant, a policy analyst at Cowen Inc., assesses the likelihood of the TikTok bill’s passage as reasonably high, estimating an 80% chance of Senate approval. Gallant anticipates that TikTok is unlikely to be stripped from the broader aid package, predicting Senate deliberation within one to two weeks, though indications suggest it could happen even sooner.

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