Senate intel chair to TikTok users: ‘We don’t want to take away the experience’

For all the latest developments in Congress, follow WTOP Capitol Hill correspondent Mitchell Miller at Today on the Hill.

The chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said that he’s encouraged by new efforts from U.S. investors to purchase social media platform TikTok.

Former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Thursday that he’s putting together an investment group to try to buy TikTok, which is now owned by ByteDance, a company linked to the Chinese government.

The Senate is now considering a bill passed by the House this week, which if it is ultimately approved and signed by President Joe Biden, calls for ByteDance to either divest from TikTok or be banned in the United States.

Warner, like other lawmakers, is concerned that Chinese control of TikTok’s parent company presents a significant national security risk.

The Democratic lawmaker said he welcomes Mnuchin’s announcement.

“You could take him on his word,” said Warner, who at times worked closely with the former treasury secretary during budget talks, when Mnuchin served in the Trump administration. “He also was very involved in the efforts under Trump to prohibit TikTok. So he’s aware of the national security risk.”

The former president recently reversed his position on TikTok.

He had sought to ban the popular video app when he was in the White House. But this week he announced he was opposed to the legislation before Congress.

Less than two weeks ago, Trump met with a billionaire conservative donor who is a part owner of ByteDance.

Warner said he hopes that there will be other bidders for TikTok, in addition to the group Mnuchin is putting together, noting the purchase cost could be “north of $100 billion.”

Not looking to halt TikTok use

Warner stressed that he and other lawmakers who support the latest legislation aren’t trying to deny access to the estimated 170 million Americans who use the app.

“I’d say to TikTok users, we don’t want to take away the experience,” he said. “We want you to still have access to the creativity.”

He also said he’s aware that social influencers and others earn money from TikTok, and he doesn’t want that to end.

“We just don’t want it, at the end of the day, … to be controlled by the Communist Party of China,” he said.

Warner is critical of TikTok for using “heavy-handed tactics” before the House vote, urging users of the app to flood congressional offices with calls opposing the legislation.

TikTok sent push alerts to users over the age of 18, calling on them to contact lawmakers and stop a TikTok ban.

Some lawmakers said they were turned off by the messaging and said if anything, it caused them to be more likely to support the measure.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew met with some lawmakers on Thursday, trying to shift momentum on Capitol Hill.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there and I intend to clarify it,” he said to reporters, calling the legislative action “very disappointing.”

TikTok has denied that ByteDance is under the control of Beijing and has repeatedly sought to downplay fears the Chinese government could use the app to monitor Americans or use it for political reasons.

But Warner and other lawmakers are skeptical.

“China does not allow Facebook or Google or other American social companies to operate in China,” he said. “We would never say it’s OK for an adversarial nation to buy Fox News or MSNBC. But that’s the equivalent of what we have right now.”

Warner said he hopes the TikTok bill will be taken up quickly in the Senate, noting it could be amended.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has indicated he’s not ready to put the legislation on a fast track.

He has said he wants to get more information from Senate committee chairs, before preparing for a floor vote.

Biden has said he would sign the legislation, if it gets final approval.

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Mitchell Miller

Mitchell Miller has worked at WTOP since 1996, as a producer, editor, reporter and Senior News Director. After working "behind the scenes," coordinating coverage and reporter coverage for years, Mitchell moved back to his first love -- reporting. He is now WTOP's Capitol Hill reporter.

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