tiktok trouble

TikTok legislation faces hurdles for passage in the Senate

Despite a strong bipartisan vote in the House, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has been noncommittal in moving the legislation forward

Photo Illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

TikTok app logo on the App Store is seen with TikTok logo displayed in the background in this illustration photo taken in Krakow, Poland on July 18, 2021.

The House voted 352-65 on Wednesday to pass a bill that would force the sale of or impose a ban on TikTok inside the United States. But the bill faces an uphill climb in the Senate, currently appearing likely to fizzle in the upper chamber.

The fast-moving legislation was prompted by concerns about the ties between TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, and the Chinese government, but has also attracted support from the Jewish Federations of North America, which mounted an aggressive advocacy push in response antisemitic content on the platform. The Republican Jewish Coalition also supports the bill.

“TikTok has helped fuel a horrific spike in antisemitism that our communities are feeling every day, and it’s time to take action,” JFNA CEO Eric Fingerhut said in a statement. “Today’s vote showed the strong, bipartisan support for ensuring that TikTok cannot continue to push hateful messages into our communities, and we urge the Senate to quickly take up and pass this legislation.”

Despite strong support in the House, the bill currently does not appear to have the requisite support to move through the Senate, with some key Senate leaders publicly noncommittal or seeming to favor alternative, less targeted approaches.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has been publicly noncommittal about moving the bill forward, saying only that he would consult with relevant committee chairs.

“The Senate will review the legislation when it comes over from the House,” Schumer said in a statement following the vote.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) said he plans to press Schumer for a Senate vote.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), who chairs the Commerce Committee, which would be responsible for moving the bill forward, has indicated that she doesn’t support the current bill, suggesting to reporters that it would not pass constitutional muster in court.

“I’m glad they brought up a subject, but we got to get a real solution. That one, I don’t think will make it all the way through,” Cantwell told reporters earlier this week.

Despite the Senate hurdles,, the bill picked up two key Senate supporters: Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), the chair and vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, immediately after the House vote.

“We are united in our concern about the national security threat posed by TikTok — a platform with enormous power to influence and divide Americans whose parent company ByteDance remains legally required to do the bidding of the Chinese Communist Party,” they said in a joint statement. “We were encouraged by today’s strong bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives, and look forward to working together to get this bill passed through the Senate and signed into law.

President Joe Biden has said he would sign the bill if it passes, and the White House urged the Senate to pass the bill expeditiously.

Supporters of the bill could try to include the legislation in the second tranche of 2024 government funding bills out later this week, but such a tight timeline might prove a difficult prospect, especially given the state of play in the Senate.

In the House, 50 Democrats and 15 Republicans voted against the bill. Much of the Democratic opposition came from progressives, as well as some senior Democrats including Reps. Katherine Clark (D-MA), Jim Himes (D-CT), Greg Meeks (D-NY) and Jerry Nadler (D-NY). Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), who is running for Senate in Arizona, also opposed the bill. Republican opposition came largely from the right flank of the party.

Nadler said in a statement that he opposed the bill because of “First Amendment concerns about forcing Americans to lose access to the platform of their choice” and “fundamental issues with the aim of this legislation.” He said “there is not enough evidence of a threat” to necessitate the bill.

He said Congress should instead focus on broader legislation, applying to all companies, on data privacy and security.

Gallego and other opponents of the bill have characterized it as a “total ban” on the app.

In spite of its strong bipartisan support in the House, the bill’s fate in the Senate remains an open question, with some key Senate leaders publicly noncommittal or seeming to favor alternative, less targeted approaches.

Other Jewish groups, such as the Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee, have declined to support the bill.

In a statement, an ADL spokesperson did not offer support for the House-passed bill, instead encouraging broader legislation and for TikTok to take further action of its own volition.

“As the leading anti-hate organization, ADL strongly believes in holding companies accountable for hate and harassment on their platforms,” the spokesperson said. “As we detailed in a report late last year, horrifying incidents of antisemitism on TikTok are slipping through the cracks, and TikTok needs to do far more to allow researchers like ADL to study their platform. TikTok must do more to curb the proliferation of hate and harassment on its platform – and Congress must take steps to hold all platforms accountable.”

AJC CEO Ted Deutch said last week on an episode of Jewish Insider’s “Inside the Newsroom”  that efforts to address antisemitism on social media should be focused on direct contact with the companies to urge them to enforce their existing policies. He reportedly met with TikTok’s CEO last year.

“Congress may act, we can work with, encourage Congress to act, and I think that’s important. But relying on Congress to do something to somehow get us out of this is not going to get us out of this,” Deutch said.

He also highlighted efforts of pro-Israel and pro-Jewish creators on TikTok and other social media platforms, arguing, “we have to lift them up and we have to invest in those who are trying different things that get the message out.”

Jewish advocacy groups’ splits over the bill aren’t stopping some on the far left, like commentator Briahna Joy Gray, who has propagated anti-Israel conspiracy theories, from blaming the Jewish and pro-Israel community for the House vote. Gray has specifically targeted the ADL.

A House staffer, who was not authorized to speak on record, told JI that, after the vote, constituents called their office blaming AIPAC for their member’s vote in favor of the bill.

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