Senator Rand Paul says banning TikTok will lose GOP elections for a generation

Senator Rand Paul on Wednesday said banning TikTok will wipe out his fellow Republicans’ chances of winning elections for years to come as congressional debate heats up over new restrictions on the China-founded app.

The Kentucky Republican’s vocal opposition to a TikTok ban highlights a divide among GOP lawmakers over how to address concerns about China’s potential use of the app to collect data and influence Americans.

In an op-ed for Louisville’s Courier Journal, Mr. Paul staked a position as a libertarian-minded Republican defending TikTok against conservative lawmakers who advocate new restrictions.

“Republicans in Congress have developed a national strategy to permanently lose elections for a generation: Ban a social media app called TikTok, used by 94 million, mostly young Americans,” he wrote.

As the number of TikTok users swells, Mr. Paul warned that Republicans would bear more of the blame for a ban than Democrats, who also support restrictions. More than 150 million Americans use TikTok monthly, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew told House lawmakers last week.

“The TikTok ban strategy also comes as the GOP complains that liberal US social media companies are canceling and censoring conservatives,” Paul wrote. “So, without a hint of irony, many of these ‘conservatives’ are now campaigning to ban a platform owned by an international group that includes several American investors.”

TikTok’s China-based parent company ByteDance has worried some lawmakers who fear the country’s civil-military merger will force the company to cooperate with the communist government.

Mr Chew told the House Energy and Commerce Committee that ByteDance is not a representative of China. He said in a written statement that 60% of ByteDance is owned by global institutional investors, with 20% owned by the company’s founders and 20% owned by employees.

Mr. Chew’s testimony failed to convince Democratic and Republican lawmakers to give up trying to restrict his app.

A coalition of 18 Senators with equal representation from Democrats and Republicans has proposed legislation to give President Biden the legal power to ban TikTok. Mr. Biden has yet to say publicly if he supports a statewide ban on the app, but the effort, led by Sens. Mark Warner, a Democrat of Virginia, and John Thune, a Republican of South Dakota, are seeking a trial that would save him this makes possible.

Senator Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, led efforts to remove TikTok from government devices last year. That passed Congress and was signed by Mr. Biden. According to Punchbowl News, Mr. Hawley plans to push for a Senate vote for a nationwide ban on TikTok this week.

Mr Paul wrote on Wednesday that a nationwide ban on TikTok would make America more like China and violate the constitution. He said people who dislike TikTok or other social media platforms should choose not to use them.

“I hope saner minds will consider which is more dangerous: videos of dancing teenagers or the US government’s no-speech precedent,” Mr. Paul wrote. “For me, it’s a simple answer. I will defend the Bill of Rights against all who come, even against members of my own party if need be.”

Republicans aren’t the only ones with internal disagreements over how to target TikTok. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, joined the platform and posted a video on Saturday saying she opposed the app’s ban.

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