“I think the White House is very in favor of this bill,” Senator Warner said. “We give the Secretary of Commerce the tools to ban, [or] to force a sale.”
The new bill would not ban TikTok outright but provide a range of tools to the US Commerce Department to impose levels of restrictions on transactions from foreign-owned tech companies that pose a risk to national security.
The White House had signaled support for the new legislation, introduced by a bipartisan group of senators earlier in March.
It’s the latest piece of bad news for TikTok which is owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance. Many Republicans and Democrats fear that national security legislation passed by the Chinese Communist Party requiring companies and citizens in the country to comply with state intelligence agencies will result in the app being used to spy on, manipulate, or otherwise negatively affect the millions of Americans who use it.
The Biden administration has been pushing for months to force a sale of the app to a US-based company. That push has been strongly resisted by TikTok.
The company’s CEO, Shou Chew, appeared on Capitol Hill on Thursday at a bruising public hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee which left TikTok’s support scarcer than ever.
Mr Chew was excoriated by committee members of both parties for not being able to guarantee that Chinese government agents had never used his app to spy on Americans, including journalists.
Lawmakers also argued that his company was opposed to American values of freedom and privacy.
“We do not trust TikTok will ever embrace American values – values for freedom, human rights and innovation,” said GOP Chairwoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers at the hearing.
She added: “TikTok is a weapon by the Chinese Communist Party to spy on you, manipulate what you see and exploit for future generations.”
Lawmakers who spoke to The Independent on Capitol Hill said that CEO Shou Chew was unconvincing when he denied that TikTok had accessed Americans’ data for nefarious purpose.
“I don’t think the question is whether there’s hard evidence they have [committed espionage]. It’s whether they could, and that’s really the issue in front of the [Congress],” said Congressman Gerry Connolly, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight subcomittee on cybersecurity.
The Independent has contacted TikTok for comment.