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Congress closer to a TikTok ban or forced sale after CEO’s concerning testimony, Gallagher says

Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — Last week’s testimony from TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew “increased the likelihood that Congress will take some action” on the hugely popular and controversial social media app after his remarks on Capitol Hill failed to allay bipartisan worries over potential data privacy issues and Chinese government intrusion, Rep. Mike Gallagher said Sunday.

“They’ve actually united Republicans and Democrats out of the concern of allowing the [Chinese Communist Party] to control the most dominant media platform in America,” he told ABC “This Week” co-anchor Martha Raddatz of TikTok, which has 150 million monthly active American users.

Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican who chairs the House select committee on U.S. competition with China, touted legislation he and his committee’s ranking member, Illinois Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi, co-sponsored to either ban the app or force its sale to an American firm from Chinese parent company ByteDance.

Chinese officials have called such proposals overreach and unfair — though China heavily restricts the use of the internet in its country — and said they would resist a sale. Critics of the scrutiny say it hasn’t applied to similar social media platforms.

But Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi, appearing together on “This Week,” told Raddatz that the risks warranted such moves.

Separately, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy tweeted Sunday that the chamber would be “moving forward with legislation” on TikTok.

Krishnamoorthi pointed to Chew’s inability to call out “spying” by some ByteDance employees on American journalists last year or to “acknowledge that there’s a genocide going on with regard to the Uyghur people in Xinjiang province, in the northeast corner of China. Again, bowing to pressure from this Chinese Communist Party,” he told Raddatz.

Both he and Gallagher also sounded skeptical of “Project Texas,” an endeavor TikTok says will keep U.S. data stored in Texas and prevent access by Beijing but that lawmakers say is insufficient.

“There are whistleblowers coming forward saying that whatever the TikTok management is saying about Project Texas is a pack of lies,” Krishnamoorthi said, while Gallagher said protections for Americans’ data are only part of the larger issue.

“The key part that’s missing from Project Texas’ mitigation strategy is control of the algorithm. That’s really what we need to address,” Gallagher said. “It’s not just exfiltrating data from an American phone, it’s what they’re able to push to Americans through the algorithm — control our sense of reality, control the news, meddle in future elections.”

Chew’s lengthy testimony on Thursday in front of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce sought to satisfy concerns that TikTok would be forced to hand over data on U.S. users if the Chinese government requested it.

“I think a lot of risks that are pointed out are hypothetical and theoretical risks,” Chew insisted at one point. “I have not seen any evidence.”

He also pushed back against worries that TikTok’s algorithm could be used to sway public opinion, including with pro-China content and election misinformation.

But lawmakers on the panel were less than impressed, with Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., telling Chew, “Your platform should be banned.”

“I think that it created more concerns, quite frankly,” Krishnamoorthi told Raddatz on Sunday of Thursday’s hearing. “I don’t think that he did TikTok any favors.”

Raddatz pressed Krishnamoorthi on his response to the potential political fallout from a TikTok ban, given its popularity with younger people.

“I think that good policy makes good politics,” he said. “And in this particular case, we have to recognize that while TikTok is another social media app, and we have a generalized concern about these social media apps, it’s different in kind from any other social media app because its parent company is beholden to the Chinese Communist Party.”

Beyond TikTok, Raddatz also asked Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi — who sit on the House Intelligence Committee — about strikes on U.S. bases in Syria last week, which killed an American contractor and wounded several others, including service members and a contractor.

Iran-backed militias are thought to be responsible, and the U.S. has retaliated with airstrikes.

Gallagher said the attacks stemmed from a “crumbling” of “our deterrent posture vis-à-vis Iran” and said that “we can’t afford another failure of deterrence like that, which we saw in Ukraine.”

“Some practical steps going forward in my opinion would be to reimpose a policy of maximum economic pressure, abandon an attempt to resuscitate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal] as well as force the Pentagon to deliver” a report on U.S.-Israeli cooperation on technology to boost both countries’ capabilities, Gallagher said.

“We need to have a clear-eyed view of the regime we’re facing in Tehran,” he said.

Krishnamoorthi said that the U.S. would not back away from the region and would continue counter-terrorism work there, despite the danger.

“[W]e’re kind of targets of opportunity for these Iranian-backed militias. But we’re not going anywhere. We have to stay in northern Syria, and work with our partners in Iraq as well in fighting ISIS [the Islamic State],” he said. “Unfortunately, we’re going to have to deal with them appropriately, but we’re not leaving that part of the world as we deal with ISIS.”

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