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SOTU

A feisty Biden blasts GOP foes

SOTU: If you are a casual political observer, you tuned into the State of the Union Thursday night and saw a feisty President Joe Biden deliver a full-throated blast at Republicans and “my predecessor” — former President Donald Trump, his opponent this fall.

Surprisingly, Biden led his address with Ukraine, Jan. 6, abortion and the state of the U.S. economy, all of which he sees as the keys to his reelection campaign.

Biden jousted with Republicans who screamed at him — namely Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) — even ad-libbing a line about Georgia nursing student Laken Riley and her alleged murder at the hands of an “illegal” immigrant, which shocked some members of his own party. Biden then spent more than 30 minutes hobnobbing with lawmakers on the House floor, only leaving when they turned the lights out.

Yet nothing Biden said or did Thursday night will have an immediate impact on domestic policy. His big international pitches were for Ukraine aid and a new port on the shores of Gaza to help deliver aid to beleaguered Palestinian civilians, something we’re certain will become a big issue for Hill Republicans in the coming days. We’ve got more from Andrew Desiderio on that below.

Now onto the news: House Democratic leadership is expected to endorse the bipartisan bill to force ByteDance to sell TikTok, another massive blow for the social media giant in advance of a floor vote next week.

The Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously cleared legislation Thursday that would require ByteDance to sell TikTok in order for the enormously popular app to remain available in U.S. markets. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise then announced that the chamber would take up the legislation — authored by Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), chair and ranking member of the China select committee — next week.

The bill is likely to be considered under suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds majority for passage. This shows an unusual level of confidence from the GOP leadership that this bill will sail through the chamber with large bipartisan majorities.

House Democratic leadership sources say it’s nearly inevitable that they will back the legislation and urge their members to vote for it.

In an interview Thursday, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries made clear he was leaning in that direction:

Remember: Two of Jeffries’ ranking members — Krishnamoorthi and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) — support the bill. There’s virtually no chance Jeffries would try to overrule a unanimous bipartisan vote and skirt around his ranking members.

Something to watch: But even with Democratic leadership’s support, the bill might not be as easy a lift as GOP leaders think.

Democrats are pushing for Pallone’s data broker bill to get a floor vote alongside the TikTok legislation. Both bills were passed out of committee 50-0 and are a package deal, Democrats say.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), chair of the panel, is a co-sponsor of the data broker legislation, and the two issued a joint release touting its introduction this week.

But Republican aides claim the CMR-Pallone bill — which would prevent data brokers from selling U.S. data to foreign adversaries — has some problems on their side. In response, Democrats are currently threatening to take down the TikTok bill if Republicans don’t hold up their end of the deal, sources familiar with the talks said.

The lobbying flop: House Republican and Democratic insiders were caught off guard by the 50-0 drubbing in the Energy and Commerce Committee. TikTok pushed users to contact lawmakers with pleas not to crack down on the app before the vote. That backfired badly.

It’s very rare to see a company like TikTok, which has an army of lobbyists, caught so flat-footed on legislation. TikTok spent $370,000 lobbying Congress in the fourth quarter of 2023 alone.

TikTok’s payroll includes heavy-hitting lobbyists such as former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) and former Reps. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) and Jeff Denham (R-Calif.).

Yet this has been an extraordinary few days in the long-running TikTok saga, an issue that has bedeviled Washington for years.

Trump signed an executive order in August 2020 banning TikTok unless it was sold to an American company. The order was never enforced due to concerns over possible legal challenges and Biden later withdrew it.

Congress then prohibited TikTok on government-issued phones in December 2022. Yet attempts to pass a ban or force its sale stalled out. Biden’s reelection campaign even recently joined TikTok.

But what to do about TikTok simmered behind the scenes for months. Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi quietly lobbied members on their plan, as did McMorris Rodgers and other Republicans on the panel.

The Energy and Commerce Committee held a classified briefing with officials from the FBI, Justice Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence before the panel vote. These officials warned lawmakers that personal information from millions of American TikTok users could be accessed by the Chinese government, we’re told, despite ByteDance’s insistence that can’t happen.

The committee went right from the classified briefing to the markup on the TikTok bill, a huge advantage for the legislation’s supporters. Pallone — who hadn’t announced his position — ended up backing it, as did all the other Democrats.

TikTok’s allies on and off Capitol Hill are convinced that the “fix is in.” They expect a big bipartisan vote on the House floor, followed by Senate approval. There will be legal challenges, of course, since this legislation is aimed at a single company.

But will TikTok launch a scorched-earth strategy to pressure members and senators as it did on Thursday? It didn’t work then, but there’s a long way to go before this bill ends up on Biden’s desk.

— Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan

Presented by The Coalition to Project American Jobs

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