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Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., speaks to reporters as she arrives for a vote

Cantwell, Warner diverge on key element of House TikTok bill

Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Intelligence Committee Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) are expected to meet soon about the House-passed bill forcing TikTok to divest from its Chinese parent company.

Their sit-down comes amid serious doubts about whether the Senate can follow the House with a similarly strong bipartisan margin to crack down on what lawmakers from both parties say is a burgeoning national security threat — TikTok.

Cantwell and Warner disagree about fundamental elements of the House measure, chiefly over whether it can withstand legal scrutiny.

Warner supports the bill, which the House passed with 352 “yes” votes. Cantwell detailed her opposition to the legislation for the first time earlier this week, arguing it could be struck down by the courts as currently crafted. The implication here is that there are First Amendment or bill of attainder concerns.

We asked Warner to respond to Cantwell’s contention. Warner said he’s spoken with the Justice Department on this issue, and “they do” believe it can beat back legal challenges.

“It’s something — when Sen. Cantwell and I have a fuller discussion, we’ll raise it,” Warner said. “Obviously, whatever we pass needs to stand up to legal scrutiny.”

Warner’s GOP counterpart on the Intelligence panel, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, noted that similar restrictions were imposed on Chinese telecommunications companies Huawei and ZTE.

“It doesn’t limit speech or content,” Rubio said of the House TikTok bill. “This is about who owns and manages the algorithm.”

Because of these disagreements, the bill’s status in the Senate is up in the air. Cantwell and her staff are expected to propose changes to the House bill and see if an agreement can be reached. In the meantime, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has indicated he’ll wait for that process to play out.

But proponents of the effort forcing TikTok to cut ties with its parent, ByteDance, fear that they’re witnessing the bill’s slow death.

Cantwell’s opposition is “an obstacle to getting a hearing in the committee,” Rubio said. The Commerce Committee, of course, has jurisdiction over the issue.

“She’s obviously hugely key here, not least because Schumer appears to be deferring to her,” added Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a supporter of the House bill. “If she’s opposed to it, it’s just not going to go anywhere… What worries me is the [slow-rolling]. Are we trying to solve the problems or are we looking for problems?”

— Andrew Desiderio

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