House GOP pushes ahead on TikTok vote despite Trump opposition

House GOP leaders are barreling ahead on a vote that would push TikTok to divest from its Chinese government-linked parent company, mostly ignoring pressure from Donald Trump to abandon the bill.

During a weekly closed-door meeting with House Republicans, Majority Leader Steve Scalise gave a “big, impassioned defense” for the legislation, according to Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), the bill’s lead sponsor. If TikTok’s parent company does not divest, the legislation would block it from app stores.

The No. 2 House Republican essentially said, according to a person in the room: It’s a forced divestment, not a ban — despite what TikTok has tried to claim to its users. Scalise also argued that China currently has access to all of its users’ data through the app, and passing the legislation was necessary to protect Americans.

The House is expected to vote on the bill Wednesday, which will require a two-thirds threshold for passage. While GOP leadership isn’t formally whipping the bill, Speaker Mike Johnson, Scalise and other Republican leaders have joined the White House in publicly backing the bipartisan divestment push.

The legislation’s fate is less certain in the Senate, where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer hasn’t committed to taking it up. Still, this is the closest Congress has gotten in multiple attempts to hold ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, accountable for its ties to the Chinese government.

Meanwhile, Trump has come out strongly against the bill, arguing the push would send users to other platforms he has publicly bashed like Facebook. And the presumptive GOP presidential nominee’s opposition has created some cold feet in the party, as Republicans still get anxious about crossing Trump.

Asked Monday about Trump’s comments on the bill, Johnson said: “I’m not going to comment, I haven’t talked to him.” Other pro-Trump lawmakers responded similarly, noting they haven’t personally heard from Trump on the matter.

Experts have voiced concerns that the app could be weaponized to spread propaganda and influence major events. A report released Monday from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) alleges that China may try to influence the upcoming presidential election: “TikTok accounts run by a PRC propaganda arm reportedly targeted candidates from both political parties during the U.S. midterm election cycle in 2022.” The report also said that “China is demonstrating a higher degree of sophistication in its influence activity, including experimenting with generative AI.”

The Justice Department, FBI and ODNI are expected to give an all-members classified briefing on TikTok to members later Tuesday, hoping to further sway lawmakers a day ahead of the vote.

TikTok, which has argued there is no evidence to support such allegations, has launched an aggressive pressure campaign against the effort. On Tuesday, House offices reported an ongoing slew of calls from TikTok users, a result of a pop-up on the app that told users to call lawmakers and say they are opposed to a TikTok “ban.” As one senior House Republican aide put it: “The TikTok deluge continues. All three of our phone lines are slammed all morning.”

But some Republicans note that lobbying push has backfired on ByteDance, frustrating some lawmakers who were previously on the fence. Some cited how TikTok forced users to call congressional offices in order to use the app, while pushing the misleading “ban” claim. Multiple lawmakers have viewed this effort as further confirmation the app could be weaponized.

Gallagher, chair of the Select Committee on China, said he also sought to speak to members who have “concerns” about the bill at the morning meeting.

“The bill remains narrowly focused on social media apps tied to foreign adversary countries. That’s it,” Gallagher told reporters after the private meeting. “Anyone telling you otherwise is misreading the bill, deliberately, or buying TikTok’s propaganda.”