Sen. Mark Warner, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Sunday that he believes the White House supports a bill that could potentially allow the Department of Commerce to ban TikTok, the popular social video platform that has come under scrutiny by leaders in the United States.
“I think the White House is very in favor of this bill,” the Democrat from Virginia said during an appearance on “Face the Nation.” He noted that the proposed legislation would give U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo “the tools” to either ban or “force a sale” of the app.
Owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, TikTok was a focal point of congressional debate last week, as the company’s CEO Shou Zi Chew testified before the House Committee for Energy and Commerce in response to questions about whether the app poses national security threats. Various countries, in addition to the U.S., have already taken steps to ban the use of TikTok on government devices in light of ByteDance’s connection to China, and as claims circulated suggesting that the app could be used as a surveillance tool.
Alongside Republican Sen. John Thune of South Carolina, Warner co-sponsored a bill called the Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology (RESTRICT) Act, which aims to address possible threats posed by technologies affiliated with foreign governments by giving the Commerce Department authority to review or ban them entirely.
Warner told “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan that the RESTRICT Act has so far received bipartisan support from a group of 22 senators, including 11 Democrats and 11 Republicans. Exactly how the White House would choose to react should the bill pass in Congress is still unclear.
However, in a separate appearance on “Face the Nation” Sunday, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby reiterated concerns that the Biden administration has voiced in the past over TikTok. Kirby also said the council supports the RESTRICT Act because it would give President Joe Biden “additional tools and authorities” to regulate the application.
“There’s an ongoing, as you know, review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States,” he said, referencing the panel currently reviewing TikTok’s national security risks.
“But look, in the meantime, the president’s already said we absolutely have national security concerns about that application and he’s banned it from government devices,” Kirby added. “We have endorsed the Restrict Act, pending legislation, we’d love to see that passed by the Congress so that the president can have additional tools and authorities.”
Chew’s testimony last week mainly focused on addressing U.S. fears that data collected by TikTok could be turned over to the Chinese government.
“While I appreciated Mr. Chew’s testimony, he just couldn’t answer the basic question,” Warner said on Sunday.
“At the end of the day, TikTok is owned by a Chinese company, ByteDance. And by Chinese law, that company has to be willing to turn over data to the Communist Party,” the senator continued. “Or one of my bigger fears, we got 150 million Americans on TikTok average of about 90 minutes a day, and how that channel could be used for propaganda purposes.”
In Congress, Chew said that Beijing has never requested data from TikTok — which does not operate in China — nor would TikTok hand over the data if it did.