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Lee’s Rebellion & Senate TikTok Gymnastics

mike lee
If hardliners believe that the bill will increase funding for processing migrants and keeping them on American soil once they cross the border, they’re going to cause a fuss. Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images
Tina Nguyen
March 20, 2024

It’s widely assumed, probably correctly, that the House version of the TikTok ban will face more pushback in the Senate, in large part due to growing questions among Republicans. The sources of their concerns (some of which are merely post-hoc rationalizations for aligning with Trump) vary considerably. There is, of course, the very real impact of the Jeff Yass-fueled Club for Growth pressure campaign, as well as genuine fears about further empowering Meta and Mark Zuckerberg, a greater bogeyman than Xi Jinping in some corners of the far right. But there is also an emerging libertarian argument, recently espoused by Sen. Rand Paul, which posits the bill could unfairly target American investors in ByteDance (a.k.a. Yass) while setting a precedent that the government can target companies for alleged foreign influence without the burden of proof. 

Even among the China hawks on the populist right, who are campaigning for a full-fledged TikTok ban, there are concerns about what it means for a social media company to be “indirectly” held by a hostile foreign power. At the moment, the bill can directly target ByteDance since 1) the company is based in China, which has strict laws about government compliance, and 2) the Chinese Communist Party owns a so-called “golden share” of the company, theoretically allowing it backdoor access to the app, per Chinese law. (ByteDance has denied this, although independent analysts note that it’s hard to verify.)