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Biden and Senate Democrats May Postpone the TikTok Bill Amid Election Year

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Biden and Senate Democrats May Postpone the TikTok Bill Amid Election Year

Republicans have exhibited cohesion in their bid to ban TikTok, underscoring their resolve. Democratic legislators seem to display more doubts.

Biden and Senate Democrats May Postpone the TikTok Bill Amid Election Year
Credit: Depositphotos

On March 13, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the “Protecting Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act” with a vote of 352 to 65. This legislation would prohibit the wildly popular video app TikTok from operating in the United States unless its owner, ByteDance, sells TikTok to an American company. U.S. President Joe Biden has publicly stated that if Congress passes this bill, he would sign it into law. 

Next, the bill will be submitted for Senate consideration. Many believe that the efficiency and progress of the Senate’s deliberations will be crucial in determining whether the bill ultimately becomes law.

At present, no one can accurately predict the timeline for the passage of the bill. However, if we delve into the specific priorities of Democratic lawmakers and Biden himself, we might surmise that Democrats are likely to prolong the handling of the TikTok bill, particularly given the special backdrop of an election year, all the while demonstrating their perceived importance of this legislation.

First, there are doubts regarding the level of support for the TikTok bill among key figures within the Democratic Party. According to an analysis by Professor Diao Daming of Renmin University in China, voting records in the House of Representatives revealed that the 50 Democratic representatives who voted against the TikTok bill include notable figures like Katherine Clark, the former assistant speaker of the House and the current minority whip, as well as Jim Clyburn, who until February was the assistant Democratic leader and previously served as the majority whip when the Democrats controlled the House from 2019-2023. Additionally, ranking Democrats on nine committees, including the Rules Committee, the Ways and Means Committee, the Budget Committee, the Judiciary Committee, and the Foreign Affairs Committee, also voted against the TikTok bill. This suggests that key figures within the Democratic Party have shown a notably cautious approach toward endorsing the TikTok bill, at least within the House of Representatives.

Furthermore, we can assess the likely decision-making of Senate Democrats through two key factors. First, there’s the composition of the 2024 Senate elections. In the upcoming 2024 Senate elections, out of the current 51 Democratic seats, 23 senators will be up for reelection (including three independents leaning toward the Democratic Party). Among them is a significant figure involved in handling this legislation: Maria Cantwell, a Democratic senator and chair of the Senate Commerce Committee. In contrast, the Republicans will only have 11 out of their 49 seats up for reelection.

For Democratic incumbents seeking reelection, the decision-making process regarding the TikTok bill may require heightened caution. Mainstream election forecasting institutions such as Cook and Crystal Ball tend to predict Republican dominance in the 2024 Senate elections. Many commentators have openly voiced concerns that banning TikTok in an election year could spell political disaster for numerous Democrats, especially considering TikTok’s significance as a vital tool for attracting young voters, a demographic crucial to the Democratic Party’s electoral success.

Another factor worth considering is the performance of Senate Democrats on similar legislation. In the current Congress, there have been a total of 31 legislative activities involving the keyword “TikTok,” with 20 originating from the House of Representatives and only 11 from the Senate. Out of these, 24 were initiated by Republicans, while Democrats accounted for only seven. This suggests that Democrats in Congress have generally shown a more moderate stance toward TikTok compared to their Republican counterparts.

Historically, the role of the Senate has been to serve as a “brake” on the actions of the House of Representatives. According to the Senate’s self-history, the first U.S. president, George Washington, is reputed to have said “that the framers had created the Senate to ‘cool’ House legislation just as a saucer was used to cool hot tea.” In reality, statistics indicate that the Senate in this current Congress takes an average of 178 days to pass a bill. Therefore, considering the role of the Senate and the structure of this Congress, delaying the TikTok bill might indeed be the more likely choice for Democrats.

For Biden personally, there’s also no incentive to expedite the passage of this bill during an election year. First, considering the usage habits of young voters on TikTok and the support they showed for Democrats in the 2020 elections, Biden should avoid alienating this demographic. 62 percent of TikTok users fall within the 18-29 age bracket. Currently, Biden’s support among young people appears to be waning. A February poll conducted by Axios-Generation Lab revealed that among voters under 35 years old, Biden leads Trump by only a slim margin of 4 percentage points. However, young voters were crucial to Biden’s victory in the 2020 election. 

Another troubling development is that recent polls in March have shown Biden trailing behind Trump in key states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. In such a precarious electoral landscape, the Biden administration particularly needs to avoid the actual removal of TikTok during an election year. Such a scenario could introduce unforeseeable risks to the campaign. 

For Biden, a better approach would be to engage in thorough negotiations with congressional Democrats regarding the details and timeline for the TikTok bill. Efforts should also be made to urge the National Security Council, the Department of Justice, and the Department of the Treasury to play an active role. This would involve demanding stricter scrutiny for foreign social media platforms, including TikTok, to demonstrate prudence in national security affairs, while also resulting in delaying the final passage of the bill – potentially deferring any backlash until after the election.

Given the unique context of the 2024 election, Democrats in Congress and Biden appear inclined to prolong the handling of TikTok. However, amid pressure from Republicans and the ever-changing political landscape, the fate of TikTok remains highly uncertain.