Republicans are beginning to bicker over how — and if — they should ban TikTok

Ohio Senator JD Vance is among Republicans raising concerns about the RESTRICT Act, which has been approved by the White House.Tom Williams/CQ Appeal via Getty Images

  • Republicans are generally in favor of banning TikTok, but they’re beginning to disagree on how.

  • Some are concerned about the RESTRICT law, which they believe goes both too far and not far enough.

  • Senator Rand Paul has also opposed a TikTok ban and blocked a bill from Senator Josh Hawley.

Republicans are among the most ardent supporters of banning TikTok. But as the conversation began to heat up on Capitol Hill, cracks began to appear within the GOP over how to enact a ban — and whether to even go through with it.

This week Sen. Rand Paul from Kentucky was the first Republican lawmaker to come out strongly against banning the popular video-sharing appand argued that this would amount to a “national strategy to permanently lose elections for a generation” and that a ban would only make America more like China.

Paul even rose to object on the passage of Republican Sen. Josh Hawley’s bill to ban TikTok on Wednesday night, and who criticized the idea for more than 11 minutes in a speech on the floor.

Lawmakers from both parties have raised concerns that the app could be a vector for malicious foreign influence as it is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese tech company.

But there are also growing concerns among Republicans who support a TikTok ban RESTRICTION Act – arguably the most prominent proposal put forward to address the issue.

“So I think we should ban TikTok. I’m a little more worried about the RESTRICT Act,” said Senator JD Vance of Ohio.

“A group of people are very concerned that they are underpowered on the TikTok issue,” Vance said. “Another group of people is very concerned that you are effectively creating a PATRIOT act for the digital age,” Reference to a controversial law was passed after the attacks of September 11, 2001, which gave the federal government sweeping new surveillance powers.

“It’s never about what they say”

The RESTRICT law — short for Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology Act — was proposed this month by Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia and Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota.

It has already garnered broad bipartisan support, including 13 Republican co-sponsors, along with the White House backing.

But while other proposals would simply ban the video-sharing app, the RESTRICT Act essentially hands down that decision to President Joe Biden, while granting the Executive Branch new powers in the process.

Specifically, it gives the Department of Commerce the power to identify and block transactions involving “foreign adversaries” — including China, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Russia and Venezuela — without specifically mandating the ban on TikTok.

Hence the criticism from the right that it is not good enough and at the same time goes too far.

“If we’re going to ban it, ban it,” Hawley said, saying the RESTRICT Act “just doesn’t come across, it doesn’t and [grants] much perpetual authority.”

Conservative opposition to the law began to bubble up this week, particularly after Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson dedicated a monologue on Monday evening on his objections to the bill.

“This bill isn’t really about banning TikTok, it’s never about what they say,” Carlson said. “Instead, this law would give the federal government tremendous and terrifying new powers to punish American citizens and regulate how they communicate with each other.”

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky blocked passage of Hawley's bill on Wednesday.

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky blocked passage of Hawley’s bill on Wednesday.Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

On Capitol Hill, some Republicans broadly agreed with that argument.

“This legislation has very broad government powers that could prove quite detrimental to free speech and go well, far beyond just TikTok,” said Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.

“It’s worse than banning TikTok because it can be applied to many other companies,” Paul said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a co-sponsor of the RESTRICT Act, was caught in the crossfire Wednesday night when another Fox News anchor, Jesse Watters, marked the bill as “Federal Government [wanting] to see everything you do on the internet,” left Graham at a loss as to whether he actually supported the legislation.

Broader concerns about freedom of expression

It’s not just Republicans — prominent outside experts are also warning that the RESTRICT Act is too broad.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digital rights organization, argued The bill would give the executive branch extremely broad powers to ban information and communications technology with little influence from Congress.

Some experts have too To ponder that the RESTRICT Act could affect virtual private networks (VPNs) and other digital security technologies. For their part, the authors of the bill have insisted that the bill would not target individual users of any technology, including a VPN.

Ken Paulson, director of the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University, told Insider in an interview that the law, as it stands, does not adequately protect individuals.

“We need a clause that specifically states that a resident of this country who accesses these services via a VPN or any alternative method will not be prosecuted,” he said.

Rachel Cohen, a spokeswoman for Sen. Warner, previously said motherboard that “the threshold for criminal penalties in this bill is incredibly high — too high to ever address the actions of a single user of TikTok or a VPN.”

But more broadly, Paulson, EFF and other experts say all existing proposals to ban TikTok raise freedom of expression concerns, arguing that the government has failed to show that a ban would be narrowly tailored to a specific government interest — in this case to protect American privacy and prevent Chinese disinformation efforts.

For example, a federal court in California 2020 reigns that former President Donald Trump’s attempt to ban Chinese messaging platform WeChat would violate First Amendment rights.

“The problem we have right now is that nobody has made it clear why TikTok is a national security issue,” Paulson said. “Under the First Amendment, any restriction on speech must have real justification and be tailored as narrowly as possible.”

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