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Zients

Zients’ State of the Union

Sneak Peek: We spent some time Wednesday talking to White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients about President Joe Biden and the administration’s goals for the State of the Union tonight.

Biden enters this evening with sub-40% approval ratings while facing an extraordinarily challenging domestic and international landscape. Biden also faces questions about his age and vigor. The stakes are very high when the president enters the House chamber.

The full Zients interview will be in our State of the Union Special Edition, out at 10 a.m. EST.

But here’s what Zients told us about the White House’s key focus and what frustration Biden is trying to overcome:

Aside from the State of the Union, there’s a lot of other action in the Capitol today. Speaker Mike Johnson will hold an off-the-record brunch with on-air television personalities.

TikTok’s challenge: The House Energy and Commerce Committee will do something pretty unusual today for the storied panel — it will hold a classified hearing, then follow that up with a full committee markup on a bill introduced just a few days ago.

The issue under discussion is the future of TikTok, one of the world’s most popular social media apps. There’s a new bill to ban it from the United States unless ByteDance, the parent company, sells it. Here’s the bill that will be marked up.

Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), chair and ranking member of the China select committee, are the authors of this legislation. They have a wide array of bipartisan cosponsors for their proposal, formally called the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act.

Officials from the FBI, Justice Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence will testify and answer questions from members during the classified briefing. This may take several hours. The markup could also be lengthy.

It’s worth noting that the bill — which singles out TikTok and ByteDance by name — is going to be a huge lift if it ever reaches the House floor. It’s not clear this legislation can make it through the Rules Committee, so it will likely have to be brought to the floor under suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds majority for passage.

The backers of this bill have moved quickly, but complaints are already coming from on and off the Hill. There are First Amendment concerns, as well as a general hesitancy to disrupt an app that’s exceedingly popular with young voters during an election year. TikTok has an estimated 170 million users each month in the United States alone.

TikTok bans have repeatedly stalled out in the Senate as well due to bipartisan opposition.

Yet there’s some momentum in the House right now. Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) told us she met with Johnson about the bill on Wednesday. During that meeting, Johnson indicated that he’s inclined to support the legislation, according to a source close to the situation, but the speaker hasn’t made a public statement yet.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise is lobbying members in favor of the bill and Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik is a cosponsor.

Across the aisle, Rep. Frank Pallone (N.J.), top Democrat on the panel, hasn’t told his members how he’s going to vote. Pallone said Democrats must make up their own minds on this issue, we’re told.

House Democratic leaders haven’t taken a position yet either and are waiting to see how Pallone and their committee members vote.

McMorris Rodgers and Pallone also have a bipartisan bill (H.R. 7520) to ban “data brokers from selling, transferring, or giving access to such data to certain foreign adversaries or entities controlled by those foreign adversaries,” according to a committee memo.

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