Trump’s newfound opposition to a TikTok ban isn’t swaying Republicans

WASHINGTON — Former President Trump reversed course and now opposes a ban on social media giant TikTok. But his new stance — and a full-court press from TikTok and its millions of users — isn’t swaying his fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill.

House GOP leaders are charging ahead with a vote Wednesday on legislation that would ban TikTok from U.S. app stores unless its parent company, China-based ByteDance, agrees to divest the popular video-based video app.

And even some of Trump’s conservative allies in Congress said they have no problem calling out their party’s presumptive nominee for president over his newfound position on TikTok.

“Well, he’s wrong. And by the way, he had his own executive orders and his own actions he was doing, and now … he’s suddenly flipped around on that,” said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, a member of the far-right Freedom Caucus. “I mean, it’s not the first or last time that I’ll disagree with the former president. The TikTok issue is pretty straightforward.”

“I have respect and admiration for President Trump,” added Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., another Trump backer. “Nobody controls how I vote on certain issues.”

The Protecting Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act — co-authored by the leaders of the select committee investigating the Chinese Communist Party, Reps. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., and Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill. — received a boost of momentum last week when it cleared the Energy and Commerce Committee on a rare 50-0 vote. President Joe Biden has endorsed the bill.

“TikTok will have to make a choice as to whether or not they stay connected to ByteDance and ultimately controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, or if they choose to sell and operate in the United States,” said Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., who shepherded the bill through her committee.

It’s expected to sail through the House on Wednesday, though it faces a more uncertain road in the Senate, where leaders say they are still evaluating the legislation.

FBI Director Christopher Wray, and lawmakers in both parties, say they view TikTok as a national security threat. Specifically, they are concerned that the Chinese government could use TikTok to access personal data from its more than 150 million users and use algorithms to show them videos that could influence their views on issues, including the upcoming presidential election.

This bill is “divestment from the Communist Party of China; it’s pretty simple,” said Diaz-Balart, whose family fled Cuba after Fidel Castro’s takeover. “We would have never accepted the Communist Party of China or the Soviet Union or wherever controlling, owning NBC or CBS.”

National security officials will hold a classified briefing for all House members Tuesday afternoon focused on the threats from TikTok. Appearing on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” this week, Trump, too, said he agreed TikTok is a serious national security threat, but said he could not back banning the app because doing so would help rival Facebook, which he called the “enemy of the people.”

Testifying before Congress, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew has denied that the Chinese government controls the app and pushed back against suggestions that China accesses U.S. user data.

With its back against the wall, TikTok is mobilizing its millions of users to try to pressure lawmakers to oppose the bill. The social media behemoth deployed a pop-up on its app directing users to call their representatives, which overwhelmed congressional offices last week. The in-app messages continued Tuesday, with one saying the “government will take away the community that you and millions of other Americans love.”

Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi sent a letter to Shou to “demand that TikTok stop spreading false claims in its campaign to manipulate and mobilize American citizens on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.” In a letter, TikTok responded by saying it has “been clear all along that their [Congress’] real goal is to ban TikTok in the United States.” 

TikTok creators are on the Hill Tuesday lobbying House and Senate members “about the economic impact of a ban on their livelihoods,” according to a source familiar with the matter.

Shou will meet with senators on Wednesday and Thursday as the fight shifts to the upper chamber.

Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., another Trump acolyte, said she saw Trump’s statement on TikTok and is “taking that into account.” But she added that the U.S. is now at a dangerous crossroads with China.

“And this app has the potential of being a mass surveillance tool against American people. So it’s all about people using social media,” said Luna, a former Air Force veteran and Instagram influencer. “You guys know that my background was from being an influencer into Congress. And so obviously taking that into account, but we can’t have something that’s enabling our foreign adversaries.”

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