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Shou Chew, CEO of TikTok.

TikTok shifts focus to Senate as House vote nears

The House is on track to overwhelmingly pass a bipartisan bill this week effectively banning Chinese-owned social media app TikTok from the United States. The company’s CEO is already setting his sights on the Senate.

Ahead of what’s expected to be a big House vote on Wednesday, TikTok CEO Shou Chew will begin meeting today with senators to make the case against the House’s effort to force the company to divest from its parent, ByteDance. TikTok officials privately say Chew was supposed to be in Washington for a social event and has added the Senate sessions to his schedule.

The path forward in the Senate is unclear. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer isn’t making any commitments for a vote, and Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) is still pushing for a watered-down version of the House bill. Former President Donald Trump’s sudden opposition to a TikTok ban could turn Republicans against the House measure.

There’s also the fact that the Senate’s track record on standing up to social media companies isn’t great.

“I’m absolutely for Trump,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who supports banning TikTok. “But my observation is that nothing that Big Tech doesn’t want moves across the Senate floor.”

Senators in both parties also have raised constitutional concerns with the House legislation, noting that it names a single private company.

Yet if the House vote is a blowout as expected, it will be difficult for the Senate to simply ignore the bill or refer it to committee — meaning slowly kill it.

Some senators are already declining the TikTok CEO’s meeting requests, we scooped Monday night. This includes senators on national security committees such as the Intelligence panel.

Senate Minority Whip John Thune, who co-authored a separate proposal last year, told us on Monday that he has no issues with the House’s approach, calling it “fairly measured.”

“Technologies that are put forward by foreign adversaries need to be very carefully scrutinized to see if these are national security threats,” Thune said. “The conclusion with TikTok is that it is a national security threat.”

Thune, of course, is a potential successor to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Another leadership candidate — Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who’s running for GOP Conference chair — said sitting down with TikTok’s CEO is “no better than meeting with Hamas or the Taliban.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Thune’s opponent in the GOP leader race, was lukewarm about the House bill but said he believes TikTok is a national security concern.

— Andrew Desiderio and John Bresnahan

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