Senate Republican leader backs legislation to force Chinese divestment of TikTok

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday called for legislation to force TikTok’s parent company, China’s ByteDance, to divest the short video app used by 170 million Americans.

“Requiring the divestment of Beijing-influenced entities from TikTok would land squarely within established constitutional precedent,” McConnell said, adding “it wouldbegin to turn back the tide of an enormous threat to America’s children.”

He called TikTok “America’s greatest strategic rival is threatening our security right here on U.S. soil in tens of millions of American homes.”

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 352-65 on March 13 to give TikTok’s ByteDance, about six months to divest the U.S. assets of the short-video app, or face a ban.

Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell told reporters on Monday she will be meeting with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Intelligence Committee chair Mark Warner and “then we will have a game plan on how to proceed.”

On Friday, Schumer said senators can make progress “on a path forward on TikTok legislation.”

Schumer’s statement did not outline a specific position on TikTok but said “in the weeks and months ahead, we have the opportunity to make progress on bipartisan bills” including a measure on TikTok.

“The key point here is getting a tool that can be used to stop foreign actors from doing deleterious things that might harm U.S. citizens,” Cantwell told Reuters earlier.

The fate of TikTok has become a major issue in Washington where lawmakers have been flooded with calls from users who oppose the legislation.

“A ban on TikTok would violate the First Amendment rights of 170 million Americans,” TikTok said on Friday.

Many lawmakers and the Biden administration say TikTok poses national security risks because China could compel TikTok to share American user data, while TikTok insists it has never shared U.S. data and never would.

TikTok says it has spent more than $1.5 billion on the effort to protect U.S. data and house it in the U.S.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio)