Mitch McConnell Calls TikTok One Of 'Beijing’s Favorite Tools Of Espionage'

The House last month passed a bill that would require ByteDance to sell the platform within six months or risk it being banned nationwide.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday appeared to endorse a bill threatening to ban TikTok nationwide, describing the popular social media platform as one of “Beijing’s favorite tools of coercion and espionage.”

The fact that TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company, has long been viewed as an issue of concern by U.S. officials who argue the app poses a risk to Americans.

“America’s greatest strategic rival is threatening our security right here on U.S. soil … in tens of millions of American homes,” McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor in reference to TikTok.

Proponents of a ban have long cited the fact that Chinese companies and those that operate in China are required by law to share data with the government if requested as a major red flag.

The House last month passed a bipartisan bill that would require ByteDance to sell the platform within six months or risk it being banned across the country.

McConnell appeared to endorse the legislation, which faces an uncertain path in the Senate.

“Requiring the divestment of Beijing-influenced entities from TikTok would land squarely within established constitutional precedent,” McConnell said. “And it would begin to turn back the tide of an enormous threat to America’s children and to our nation’s prospects in the defining competition of the 21st century.”

He continued: “This is a matter that deserves Congress’ urgent attention. And I’ll support commonsense, bipartisan steps to take one of Beijing’s favorite tools of coercion and espionage off the table.”

But some members of the upper chamber have appeared uneasy with the House bill, in part because it appears to target a single company and could also run afoul of the First Amendment.

McConnell strongly rejected the idea that restricting TikTok would violate Americans’ freedom of speech.

“I take a backseat to no one when it comes to protecting First Amendment rights. I’ve firmly defended Americans’ rights to even the most noxious forms of free speech, like flag-burning,” McConnell said. “But there’s a serious difference between the views Americans might express on TikTok … and the actions taken by a platform that’s beholden to our foremost strategic competitor.”

Still, an effort by former President Donald Trump in 2020 to outlaw the social media platform in the U.S. was blocked by the courts on First Amendment grounds.

McConnell’s comments come as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, speaking from Beijing, said the issue of TikTok was “briefly” discussed during talks with her Chinese counterparts, noting that the U.S. is legitimately concerned about the private data of its citizens.

“We would like to find a way forward,” Yellen said. “Of course this is important to the Chinese.”

President Joe Biden has said he would sign the House bill on TikTok if it came to his desk.

Meanwhile, Trump, who previously tried to impose a nationwide ban on the app, has since reversed course, has said restricting TikTok would only benefit Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

“If you get rid of TikTok, Facebook and Zuckerschmuck will double their business,” he wrote.

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