House passes TikTok ban in a win for Wisconsin Rep. Mike Gallagher

The Green Bay Republican, leaving Congress at the end of his term, scored a big bipartisan win Wednesday

TikTok, known in China as Douyin, is a video-sharing social networking service owned by Chinese company ByteDance.
A logo of a smartphone app TikTok is seen on a user post on a smartphone screen Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, in Tokyo. Kiichiro Sato/ AP Photo

Wisconsin Congressman Mike Gallagher is leaving office at the end of his term, but he scored a major bipartisan victory Wednesday when Congress passed a bill that could ban TikTok in the United States. 

The Green Bay Republican introduced the bill that would force parent company ByteDance to sell TikTok within six months or be removed from app stores. Gallagher has focused on foreign policy concerns involving China throughout his time in office.

Lawmakers expressed concern about China’s access to millions of Americans’ cell phone data and the content the Chinese government could promote on the app. 

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

University of Wisconsin-La Crosse political science professor Anthony Chergosky said framing TikTok as a matter of national security made it easier to build bipartisan support. 

“National security issues tend to be things that can kind of bring the two parties together in a way,” he said. 

“Congress has struggled to just keep the lights on,” Chergosky said. “So for Mike Gallagher to be able to get major bipartisan legislation through the house is going to rightfully be seen as a major achievement for him.”

The bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, 352 votes to 65. All five Wisconsin Republicans voted for it and both Democrats voted against it. 

Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat from the Town of Vermont, explained his vote against the legislation in a post on X

“We need to address data privacy across all social networks, including American companies like Meta and X, through meaningful regulation that protects freedom of expression,” Pocan said “Not just single out one platform.” 

But Sen. Tammy Baldwin said she supports the bill.

“The issue here is not the platform itself, but rather who owns it and has control of the personal data – China,” Baldwin said in a statement to WPR. “I support the House’s effort to eliminate the national security threat that China poses and better keep Wisconsinites safe, while giving TikTok’s owners the option to do the right thing and keep the platform available for the millions of Americans.” 

In a speech on the House floor before the vote, Gallagher said the bill was not about censorship.

“The text explicitly prohibits that. And it cannot, cannot be used to censor speech. It takes no position at all on the content of speech,” Gallagher said. “Only foreign adversary control, foreign adversary control of what is becoming the dominant news platform for Americans under 30.” 

Many experts outside of Congress also worry about Chinese ownership of a major source of information for Americans. 

Dave Schroeder, a national security strategist and cybersecurity expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said Americans may be vulnerable because China has an app on millions of cell phones.

The content that can be pushed on TikTok is also a problem, he said, even if most of it is benign.  

“There’s a concern there that the messages or the narratives that might be subtly pushed on TikTok are going to be those that are supported by the Chinese government,” he said. 

Schroeder said ByteDance owns a similar app in China that children are allowed to use for only 40 minutes a day. Usage is banned at night, and the government controls what they want children to see, he said.

“You have to ask yourself, if TikTok is so great, then why does China not even allow it to operate in its own country?” Schroeder said. 

It’s unclear whether the bill will get a vote in the Senate. President Joe Biden has said he would sign the bill if it passes

“The fact that this is being talked about as a national security issue, I think gives it some legs in the Senate,” Chergosky said. 

“We definitely have to keep in mind that this is an election year and for Sen. Baldwin. Being on the record in favor of bipartisan, tough-on-China legislation would seem to stand to benefit her in her reelection campaign,” he said. 

A TikTok spokesperson declined an interview with WPR. 

“This process was secret and the bill was jammed through for one reason: it’s a ban,” a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement. “We are hopeful that the Senate will consider the facts, listen to their constituents, and realize the impact on the economy, 7 million small businesses, and the 170 million Americans who use our service.”